Trailers and me

If I see someone backing up a trailer, I will stop and watch.

I don’t watch with a critical eye, but usually eyes filled with admiration. Guys (or ladies) who can back up a trailer or a boat without jackknifing it, going off course or hitting something are my heroes.

I didn’t do much of that sort of thing until we got a little popup camper, when the kids were very young, and took it several times to Colorado and other scenic spots for those memorable family vacations. Among my worst nightmares is pulling into a campground with a tired family and having to back that little camper into exactly the right spot while a host of leathery veteran campers watched — and some, inevitably, offered advice.

“You need to aim for that third tree and then cut it all the way to the left when you get even with the outhouse door,” was usually followed by, “No! Not your left! My left!” After several attempts to help the unhelpable, they would shake their heads in disgust and trudge back to their rigs to watch cable TV.

My family would huddle on a picnic table, watching this scene as Mom explained to the kids why Dad is so grumpy. She painted it in the best terms possible, but I could see the doubt creeping into their minds, that maybe I wasn’t Superman after all.

I finally did get the hang of backing that little guy, and a few years later when my friend Jerry asked if he could park his 20-foot flatbed trailer out on our place, I gladly agreed. He bought it and took care of it — all I had to do was supply a parking spot and we could use it any time we wanted. We hauled kids’ households to college and back with it, and I got more practice.

Jerry and his wife moved to the lake and he took the trailer to park there, but he still graciously told me I could use it anytime I needed it. On a recent Saturday, as a daughter moved across town, I did.

He had it pulled out, ready to go, and I smoothly hooked up and coaxed it out of his fairly steeply sloped driveway without hitting the brick mailbox or running over his lawn. All day, as we loaded and unloaded, I was the Safety Officer, making sure everything was neatly stacked, carefully settled and tied down.

By the time the move was finally accomplished, and pieces of furniture unloaded at three different households, I was on my fourth t-shirt of the hot summer day. I tried to call Jerry to see if he was home yet — ironically, he was also moving a daughter, but one who had enough stuff that they’d rented a U-Haul truck.

He didn’t answer, but when I pulled up at the house there were several vehicles. Putting the trailer back in its place was not an option, so I decided to put it back where he’d had it out for me that morning. A car out on the street across from the driveway made this extremely difficult, but after pulling out and circling the block, and much ooching back and forth, I got it.

His neighbor, who was out at the street painting his own mailbox, watched. I’m sure he was much better at backing up trailers than me, but at least he was silent.

I was, however, ready to get out of there and get home. This haste, and fatigue, are what I blame for what followed.

I unhooked the chains, undid the cable that makes the lights work, dropped the little front metal plate to the concrete, cotter-pinned it in place and began cranking the hitch up off the ball. I recall looking for the block Jerry had given me to chock the tires — but somewhere along the way it had gotten lost, so I just blew it off.

As soon as the trailer’s hitch cleared the ball, I realized what a mistake that had been.

I grabbed on as the heavy, steel trailer took off, digging in my heels and yelling, “NO! NO! NO!” every time the metal plate scraped the concrete driveway. My braking seemed to have very little effect, but if you consider each “NO!” a fervent prayer, I would say that prayers are answered.

As the trailer bounced toward the front wall of my friends’ house, the ground leveled a bit. I’m thankful for that, and for the low curb around their front flower bed. By the time my heels rested against that curb, the ramps on the back of the trailer were about eight inches from the house.

But the trailer stopped.

I sat there a moment, feeling my heart race, breathing heavily. Then I furtively looked around to make sure no one had seen my little escapade. The neighbor was standing there, arms resting on the fence, no doubt working hard to stifle his laughter and cursing himself for not having videoed what he had just witnessed.

“You okay, buddy?” was all he said. Then we talked, remembered our boys had played soccer together and I had even helped him cook burgers at their house a few years ago. To his eternal credit, he did not laugh, but instead loaned me some blocks to chock the tires after I pulled it back up into place.

As I was finally headed home, Jerry returned my call. I explained to him what he would find when he got home: the trailer, parked where I had found it that morning, skidmarks from the front prop scraping against the concrete of his driveway, tire tracks through the vinca in the front flower bed, and about a half-inch of rubber off the heels of my Nikes.

He would not, however, find the trailer in his living room.

He and I both considered that a win.

My Morning Walk

I do not like those dogs that bark
As I walk past along the road
The yappers, woofers, ruffs and yelpers
I don’t consider them my helpers.

All I want is exercise
As I walk past houses, schools and farms
I’m happy to slip quietly by
But there go all those dog alarms.

Nine out of 10 are firmly fenced
A noisy bother, but no threat.
This morning’s walk was different,
One bark got closer, closer yet.

I turned to see a big young mutt
Making a beeline for my… backside
I raised my arms and hollered, “No!”
He stopped, and I resumed my stride.

Then, here he came. I turned again,
and ran at him, arms raised and yelling
The wheels turned in his doggie-brain
And he ran home, or there’s no telling

How that meeting might have ended.
Perhaps he sensed I had a plan
Maybe he knew what I intended
A way to handle dog-on-man.

I’d pinch his lip into his teeth
So when he started biting me,
His bite would only cause him grief,
If that didn’t work? I’d try Plan B.

A ninja thing, or maybe just
A choke-hold on his doggie neck
And hold it as long as I must
‘Til sleeping put his bite in check.

And then I’d stop — no need for spite
He needs to wake up and recall
That chasing humans just ain’t right,
Unless you’ve got a bird or a ball.

Babyfaces

In the great film, “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” one of the characters George Clooney and his prison-escapee buddies encounter along the way is the notorious bank robber George “Babyface” Nelson. And in the film, he really REALLY hates being called “Babyface.”

Not sure why that is — although if you’re acting alongside George Clooney (who gives handsome lessons) it’s easy to see how some insecurity could develop. Nevertheless, the absolute loathing of this character to being called “Babyface” is just one more sign, along with the indiscriminate use of a machine gun, that he’s a real psycho.

After all, what’s not to love about a babyface?

There’s a pro basketball player named Glenn Davis whose nickname is “Big Baby” and I’ve never heard that he minds. That’s likely because although he appears to be rather soft, he’s actually not. Maybe (baby) the nickname lulls people to sleep, so that when he rises and dunks over them, or out-hustles them for a loose ball, or sets a pick and they crash into him and he doesn’t move (or notice) the element of surprise helps him.

I’ve been thinking lately about babyfaces. I see one in the rear-view mirror fairly often — our two-year-old “foster grandson” who along with his mom is living with us now. He’s a sweet, beautiful boy and it’s fascinating to watch the emotions that flicker across his tiny features.

Most of the time he’s happy — from utter, uncontrollable delight at a toy to the quiet enjoyment of a book (although quiet is rare). And like any two-year-old, when he’s sad, he’s extremely sad — my-world-is-coming-to-an-end sad.

Most interesting, though, is the story on his face as his mom gets out of the car every morning to go to school. She opens the back door to get her backpack, then says, “Goodbye, mi amor!” and reaches down to kiss him and receive his kiss. There are multiple variations on this theme, but generally I see:

— the round-eyed, O-mouthed shock as he realizes Mommy is leaving;

— the longing for that kiss, that goodbye, that final contact;

— the love that’s there;

— the sadness as she says, in Spanish, “Behave well!” and pulls away;

— then the internal battle: “Am I going to cry? Am I going to be angry? Am I going to go on with my day?” and the way all those choices flit across his little features like fast-moving clouds in a blue sky;

— then the one that really gets me, as the brave little soldier sighs, steels himself, and looks forward.

I’m sure there’s research on this (which I haven’t consulted) but I think babies’ emotions mature before the rest of them. No, they can’t control all those muscles and bodily functions yet, and they have a hard time speaking, and calligraphy and raquetball are out of the question, but emotional responses? They’re good at this.

It’s only as we age that we learn to control emotions, right? It’s only as we get older that we grow stone-faced, hiding what’s inside so that those who look at us have no clue how we’re suffering, how joyful we really are, the turmoil or dilemma we’re facing. We work hard to conceal what babies reveal.

And don’t we measure actors’ greatness by how well they learn to command and control those emotions and the facial expressions that convey them? Don’t great actors spend their lives re-learning what babies know?

Now, in addition to my two-year-old buddy, I have a nearly-seven-week-old grandson who has brought the lesson home in even more clarity. My son-in-law and daughter, the parents/official photographers for this lad, sent us a series of four photos when he was scarcely a month old — four different faces where he seems to be thinking:

image

image“Dude! I should have bet the farm on American Pharoah to win the Triple Crown! I could have paid for college, right there!”

 

“Whoa! I should have stopped after that third bottle last night! My head!”

image“What do you mean the legislature approved a sales tax holiday for guns and ammo? Are they nuts?”

image“Ba-ha-ha-ha! That’s a good one about Hillary! I had not heard that one! Hilarious!”

I’ve only shown these to a few hundred close friends, passing acquaintances and strangers in waiting rooms. Now, of course, millions can see them on this blog — but for those of you who don’t read this, I’ll still be happy to show them to you in person, if we happen to be next to each other in the ticket line at a theater, in the same section at a ballgame, or beside each other at a stoplight. It won’t take long.

Like the weather, babyfaces change constantly. But they bring a lot more sunshine.

The eye of the tornado

My wife, 27-year-old daughter and I spent several hours last Saturday holed up in a Denny’s in Cisco, Texas. Outside, cars and pickups bunched together under the awning as hail and rain and tornado-heavy clouds created a strange fellowship among stranded travelers.

We’d just come off Interstate 20, headed from Abilene to Fort Worth. My old Buick looked like someone had worked it over with a hammer — the result of bigger-than-golf-ball hailstones hitting your car as it creeps tentatively along at 50 miles per hour. At least the glass held up. There were several who couldn’t say that, standing on the porch or inside as rain poured into their cars through shattered rear windshields.

A fire department rescue truck sped by, siren blaring. We learned later that a tornado had hit a house south of where we were, killing one person and injuring another.

We shared updates from our phones and watched The Weather Channel, rolling warnings across the big screen mounted high in a corner of the restaurant, a national broadcast originating live from exactly where we were. That’s a little exciting, but not necessarily in a good way.

It made me think of 1979 and Meridian, Mississippi, when my mom and I drove from Texas to Montgomery, Alabama to see her family. I was unemployed and free to make the trip with her. It figured to be good visiting time for a somewhat drifting young man and his mom, who had always had a gift of common sense, a knack for bringing him back to his center.

Hurricane Frederic picked that moment to exit the Gulf of Mexico and drive up the Mississippi-Alabama line, deep into America.

We had stopped at West Monroe, Louisiana to spend the night, and attended church where the preacher’s topic was Jesus’ “Do not worry” talk from Matthew 6. ¬†Highly appropriate, I thought, for my worry-prone mom. We were discussing it the next day as we drove along, and I pointed out that the rain had stopped and things appeared to be calming down. “See there?” I said. “Stop worrying!”

Just then I turned the radio on, just in time to hear Dan Rather’s voice say, “The eye of the hurricane is now at Meridian, Mississippi.” At that moment, as if it were scripted, we looked up to see the highway sign that said, “Meridian, Next 5 Exits.”

We had to laugh, knowing we were in God’s hands. We drove back into rain, but it weakened as we went on. We made our way along the famous civil-rights road from Selma to Montgomery, zig-zagging around downed trees and power lines as crews worked all around us. And we had a good visit. I bought a guitar, saw some cousins, saw my grandmother’s house for the last time. We survived.

Last Saturday, hunkered there with our fellow-travelers, it felt a little like the scene below decks on the Titanic. We were either doomed or not — but we knew we were at the mercy of big, dramatic forces much greater than ourselves.

We drank tea and finally ordered sandwiches to justify squatting so long at a table. My daughter plugged in and got some work done on her laptop. Finally we returned nervously to the road, still storm-hazardous, creeping along under an ominous, beautiful sky — exciting but not necessarily in a good way.

We made it to Fort Worth, ran our errands and got home, escaping again through the eye of the storm, and maybe learning a bit more about worry.

Hello world!

This blog springs from the brain of Bob Buckel, a recovering newspaper columnist. Bob hopes to use the blogosphere as a form of literary methadone. ¬†— a transitional drug to help him gradually wind down after writing a column every week since he was 12. The goal is to write something only when he has an actual idea. You be the judge.