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Thursday, Dec. 28, 2006
I can’t remember, over the course of a multitude of Christmas excess spanning this particular lifetime, when I’ve been forced to admit anything quite so humbling. But this is nothing but the unvarnished truth.

I’m a spoiled brat.

Ally heard: “Don’t buy me anything for Christmas. Lord knows we’ve been spending like drunken sailors on this new house.” And it’s true, we have. Some new furniture. Hardware and accessories to the point where the local Home Despot knows which truck I drive, and why.

Ally heard: “Don’t buy me anything for Christmas. You let me buy a new laptop after the old one developed a severe case of craptitis around Thanksgiving” (and the new one is so spectacularly better it shames me, for I was indeed fond of that old unit).

Ally also heard, as I sprawled cathartic in front of a Sunday football/big screen session/Doritos and longneck frenzy: “Ooooh, there’s that Sirius radio commercial, gee looky! They gots football on the radio, an’ no commercials and you can stuff it in the truck and take it along wit’ ye! And music!” **Long pause, much crunching and gurgling sounds, scratching of ass** “Boy, what a Christmas present that would make. Somebody’d sure have to love somebody else to wrap that lil’ sucker up under the tree.” **Gurgle, crunch, belch** “Yup, sure would.”

And what to my wondering eyes should appear, come Christmas morn, . . .well, you can imagine. I had the good grace to act very surprised, because I WAS surprised. Being spoiled sits uneasily with me. Going out and spending my own money on what may appear to be heaps of unnecessary tools and machines and geegaws might appear to be spoiling myself, but I don’t look at it that way. Most of what I buy gets shoved into the proper hole with a grunted “There. Takes care of that problem. What’s next?” sort of attitude. Missing a wrench from the toolbox? Sears has it. Blow up the jigsaw? Trot out the spare which you had the foresight to pick up on sale, and so on.

Having a device which can tune in damn near any song, stuff you don’t hear played anywhere else, a device which devotes whole stations to playing a genre of music you’ll NEVER hear on conventional radio? A radio which has a little heart shaped button, the Love button they call it? Jesus on a reindeer, you push it in the middle of some incredible piece of music you’ve never heard before and it records the whole freeping song to memory so you can play it over and over again for the rest of your life!

I was born in the 50’s. Vinyl records were really big with me. You’ll have to overlook the fact that by pushing a button while riding around in my truck a device will record an incredible, previously unheard song for eternity, and the resultant stunned amazement. I’m the same kid who stuck a transistor radio antenna out the window of Dad’s car trying to pick up the football game on AM with limited success, because the car had no radio at all!

I got so excited about the whole concept that I went out and bought the kit to install it at the homestead, too. The instructions were succinct enough. Remove antenna from box and point towards Minnesota. Done. I’m sitting here right now and listening (in a fit of ironic karma big enough to throw a basketball through) to a Steely Dan song that I would have bet would never come over the airwaves.

I have arrived here in the 21st century (some would say at long last . . .) with aplomb.

A spoiled brat sort of satellite-veered aplomb, to be sure.

And it’s not as though Ally hasn’t been doing her share of self indulgences, either.

Put it this way. Deep in the heart of the Blackwater, there is one domestic want/need that tops the list of things housewives desire more than any other. More than a working telephone, or a fenced yard for the dogs. Or more counter space or even satellite radio.

Nay, none of these things. You have only to look in the yards of every neighbor to see just what ranks large for things practical around these parts. Because in one form or the other, every blessed one them has one.

See, there’s a two-fold problem going on. One, unlike our more civilized colleagues to the north, nobody stops by the house on a weekly basis to collect the offal produced by an active household. No garbage truck, no recycle truck. No trash bins on the street on any given Friday. The county does things in a bit more lethargic way. You packs up your own trash and you takes it to the dump (and a very nice dump it is, once you actually get it there). Living in a house with two adults and a young mother with a very busy infant produces a pretty fair amount of trash. Trash which must go somewhere by means of motor vehicle.

The second and less apparent problem is the blackwater itself. It’s low country. Very low. When it rains, the difference between low and high country becomes instantly apparent. Here, the road stands tall and traffic moves along. There, the swamp moves in and retakes the high ground so to speak. Takes it and drowns it. The swamp has no remorse for the road, it just floods and figures the lunks who drive on it will sort things out for themselves. Floods must be circumvented by means of motor vehicle.

Oh man, Stevie Ray Vaughn playing Texas Flood, and live. Via satellite. I could go on all day.

In their own “stick a solution in the hole” way of doing things, the people of the low-country reached a conclusion years ago to solve their trash and flood problem. You take an old pickup truck and toss on a foursome set of large tires, mebbee lift the frame a wee bit (or not, seems to be a matter of personal choice on that one) and presto! Load the trash in the truck as it collects (which also happens to keep it out of the reach of your average roving dog), drive it over to the dump when filled. Weather turns sour? No problem, we’ve got the height to get over the low spots. Get to the store, get to the gas station, or even to work. Might even take the trash to the dump when the roads are flooded if we’re in the mood to be practical ‘bout life as a whole. Call it a Trash Truck since that’s just about exactly what it is. A tool, in the long list of tools you need to make things happen out in the woods.

Ally and I talked about this. The talks turned a little more urgent when the first weeks trash grew high on the back deck. “Oh hell no, you’re not putting all that trash in the back of MY car” was her blunt observation. Very timely it was too, seeing as how I had the rear window of her Expedition up and was setting to heave a dozen bags inside. “But dear,” I argued, “You’ve got the room, you’re already high up off the ground, why shouldn’t we take advantage of what we already have and get this trash to the dump?” The answer was silent, a slow wagging of head, a dangerous flame in the eye. I’ve encountered negativity before but this was a denial of the final sort. “Ain’t happening, sport. Take a look at that big white behemoth over there,” she gestured. “Whassa matter with taking out the trash in THAT?”

In my truck? The pristine, the toiler of the glory, the carpenters chariot?

What, and unload all those tools to make room for a bunch of trash bags?

Just damned inefficient, that’s all. And I hate inefficiency in all forms.

“Thought as much,” Ally said. “Guess you’d better call up Ben and have him bring the pickup down tomorrow,” she sniffed. “And by the way, I’ve got all these empty boxes you need to smoosh flat, and that old coffee table we have no place to put that you just HAD to bring along, and that busted lawnmower you just COULD’NT part with that’s sitting up here on the deck like a hood ornament, and . . .”

She went on. For quite some time did she go on.

In due course, Ben the Youngest was summoned and the pickup (which just so happens to be my old pickup, the brown and noble steed with the mileage and the legends built in) came a trawlin’ for trash and the deed was done. For that week, at least. The week after a similar scene ensued, and Ben was summoned, and then the week after that. It wasn’t a bad arraignment as arraignments go, but after five successive trips like this even Ben was starting to wonder aloud. “Gee Pop, it isn’t like I mind or anything, but I’m driving like 45 minutes one way to haul your trash a couple of miles, and . . .”

Damned inefficient. Yes. I gave him 50 bucks for gas and sat out on the deck to think.

Helps to know that Ally works in the automotive industry. Oh she hasn’t much to do with the cars themselves but the folks that sell them have to count on her to get paid or to pay for goods and services. And in that role she’s one to be feared, to be revered in a fashion. Wields a lot of cheap power, she does. And lo, a plot was formed. I even let her claim it as an idea of her own once the conversation got started.

“. . . and you’d think there might be someplace that would have an old pickup truck or something, unless you want me to gut the Expedition and put 33” tires on it. Sounds a little tiresome to me, heh heh . . .”

“ . . . boy would you look at it rain out there, sure hope Maggie doesn’t run into that foot deep puddle out on the Swamp Road in her Honda, damned if I think she could make it through there. Helluva mess . . .”

It was at an industry Christmas party, of all places, where Ally grabbed the lance and sallied forth. Straight into a clutch of used car salesmen she rode, or slank if you will. Christmas parties require a certain degree of slanking when one wears the party dress from the end of the closet rack. The short one. Red, if it matters.

I swear (if I was looking for a visual) she trotted back to the table and me looking like someone who’d just speared a big fish on the end of the lance. “Guess who’s got a used Bronco with big tires on the lot right now for a grand?” she gushed, all at once, and pointing back to a leering gaggle of bright suits. “Good ole Larry over there, says to come in anytime. Bet I can get him down on the price too, those guys owe us a bunch of money this month.” I don’t think I’d ever seen my wife quite so predatory before.

“Trash truck, eh?”

She nodded. “Trash truck. And something for Maggie to drive when it starts flooding down there. Makes a lot of sense, you know. So long as we can get it for cheap, why not?”

I nodded, tapping a longneck thoughtfully on the table as the waitress slid by. “Why I couldn’t agree more. What a wonderful idea. And a Ford, at that”, for the very thought of having anything other than a Ford in the driveway was just unthinkable. And all was right with the world, I had a hot chick in a red dress on my arm and we were dancing on the dance floor and there was Christmas cheer being shoveled in by the used car-load and by God, we were about to achieve the sort of status that, in the blackwater, can only come by way of an old truck that sat unusually high off the ground. Problem solved, proper tool on the way, and not a minute too soon.

In the way that my wife has in the weeks leading up to Christmas, she was given to disappearing for hours at a time on any given Saturday or Sunday. I had no qualms about it. Good things generally come of it and it absolves me of any guilt about doing exactly the same thing. I did mention the whole drunken sailor thing, right? I was hitting the Home Despot with shocking regularity by now. The big white truck was stuffed to the gills with things and I was bracing for a post Christmas trash pile to end all piles.

It ‘twas the Sunday evening before, as a matter of fact, when Ally landed from some cosmic mall episode, landed on the back deck where I was serenely charring a brace of NY Strips on the grille and butting the dogs out of the way of the flame.

She seemed abnormally buoyant for all the heat-of-battle shopping. “Might need a ride to work come tomorrow if you can.” She was grinning that grin that said, “I rode out and poked me a deal.” Ever the deal. It didn’t take much to figure it out.

“Lessee. You got the truck and can drive it home tomorrow night, right?”

“Yeah. It’s all done.”

“Trash truck.”

“Trash truck, and so much more.” That alone should have been enough of a kick in the pants but I let it lay there. Working steaks on the grille tends to be enough of a challenge for me. I didn’t need a Q & A on the finer points of picking up a trash truck.

continued next time, and since I took this week off, there may very well be a next time. Before, you know, a new year happens by or they reinvent satellite radio or something.

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