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Woodworker's Gazette
Gazette Archive 12/5/00

A Weekend Excursion
By Walt Akers

Junk... You can call it something else (spare trimmings, scrap lumber, backup tools), but, in the end, a rose by any other name takes up just as much room in your workshop. What starts out as a petite nest of cut-offs peacefully co-existing in an unused corner of your workshop must invariably grow - and grow - and grow, until they begin to threaten the security of your tablesaw, workbench and neighboring countries...

As woodworkers, we view the scrap heap as a symbol of our prowess - a reminder of the great things that we have built and the foundation of even greater things yet to come. We'll lean on it, shape it, mold it, pluck choice morsals from it... but never, under no circumstances, will we discard it... it would be like losing a child.

Wives, on the other hand, take a different view of things. They look at the woodpile with a degree of reserved detachment. They may consider it a nuisance or an eyesore, but as long as they can get around it without risking (major) injury, they'll tolerate it with a minimum of fuss ---

But just let ONE snake crawl out from under it...

I was first alerted to the 'situation' (as it came to be known) last Saturday morning while my lovely wife, Helga, was sitting on the shop steps enjoying her morning cigar. There was a brief, but thought provoking shriek, followed by a gasp and heavy footsteps. I looked up from enjoying my morning cup of coffee with Norm to see her pause briefly at the knife rack, only to turn and run up stairs... she emerged moments later with the shotgun. This had become more interesting than Norm's 'whirligig' project...

I followed her out the back door, where she had leveled the 12 gauge at the base of the tablesaw... I shrieked and then gasped... Helga had become a five and a half foot tall version of Arnold Schwaretzeneger - complete with the original accent.

"He ran under there!"

"What - a mouse?"

"No... it was a sssssnake!"

Helga despises snakes - and she behaves accordingly. After a truncated (but tense) hostage negotiation, I disarmed her and she ran inside to defend the children. Knowing that all of the local serpents are non-poisonous, I rolled the tablesaw aside and liberated the beast in question - a three foot long black snake. A few moments later, and he was over the fence and into the neighbor's yard. Traditionally being late risers, I assumed they wouldn't be bothered by the reptile as long as he left by noon.

I swaggered inside --- the intrepid defender of both house and shop... man at his very finest hour...

"That CRAP has got to GO! TODAY!!!"

"What - the snake? He's gone."

"NOOOOO! All of that #%@*^ JUNK that you've been piling up for two years!"

Any of you who have been married longer than 45 minutes know that HOW a woman says something is much more important than what she actually says... Helga is no different. In her mind, what had once been an innocuous heap of scrap lumber had, in those brief moments, transformed into a writhing, slithering nest of death adders. There was nothing I could say to change her mind --- I resigned myself to a weekend at the municipal dump.

Before I continue, allow me to say that I envy any of you who have a pickup truck... Being a family with two working parents, two small children and a big dog, no automobile smaller than the Titantic will satisfy our needs and still comply with state laws. As I opened the garage door, it quickly became obvious (even to my wife's untrained eye) that there was more 'junk' than could be carried in the back of my station wagon... And still, "That CRAP had to GO! TODAY!!!"

I decided to borrow my brother John's pickup...

Now, John is a full-time bail bondsman and a part-time carpenter... With a schedule that is replete with late-night runs to the local jail to liberate (alleged) criminals, it was understandable that automobile maintenance was not one of his primary concerns.

His little truck looked like a rental car from the Beirut Airport. With the benefit of favorable winds, this vehicle was capable of almost reaching freeway speeds... I considered this a safety feature - offsetting the fact that the brakes only worked on one side. The joints in the side view mirrors had long since gone slack, so if you wanted to see who was beside you it was necessary to reach out the window and hold the mirror at the proper angle... This was similar to the technique that his clients used to see new inmates as they were being brought onto the cell-block.

Now, most sensible men would have been inclined to wait until more reliable transportation was available, but hey --- "That CRAP had to GO! TODAY!!!"

After several hours of back-breaking labor (with Helga carefully observing through the screen door) the 'junk' was loaded. Sticks and scraps burgeoned from the truck bed, dangled over the sides and drooped down to almost reach the ground. The little truck was reminiscent of a burro that was laden for a long trip into the Grand Canyon --- a seventy year old, half-blind burro with a hang-nail and a case of hemorrhoids... I drove off into an uncertain destiny...

The rolling junk heap thundered down the road at a blistering 15 miles per hour as I held the side mirror, keeping a constant vigil for the speeding, hellcat drivers who considered their time more valuable than mine... People who were spending their Saturday doing something they enjoyed --- how I loathed them.

It was an eternity later when I arrived at the dump. Being a conscientious driver, I dropped the side mirror for only a moment while I signaled to make my turn into the facility... A quick lane change later and the sound of all hell breaking loose emerged from behind me... I stood on the brakes with both feet and the car rolled to a gradual halt.

I stuck my head out the window to observe the chaos...

The culprit was a 1970s El Camino that had lost its payload of aluminum cans (all over the road) while trying to enter the recycling facility... It was obvious (to me) that this was just another one of those demon possessed, lead-footed drivers who had tried to take the turn too fast. In typical old man fashion, I raised my hand to my mouth giving the international signal for, "How much have you had to drink?" He returned a different universal gesture, indicating that he'd only had 'one'. I doubted that --- but, I continued on my way.

Removing the scrap lumber from the truck was much easier than loading it, I imagine this is because the back of the truck bed had sagged down to almost touch the ground. When I opened the tail-gate, the 'junk' practically unloaded itself. I had to be cautious not to inadvertently discard anything that was part of the truck. After the last few pieces of scrap were jettisoned over the side, I quickly swept down the bed and I was ready to go... It was then that the El Camino pulled in behind me... like MacArthur, he had returned...

Only common decency prevents me from describing the stinging hail of profanity that filled the air as he emerged from the car... His tirade was only interrupted briefly as he grabbed the aluminum cans that continued to fall to the ground and stuffed them back in the car window... It was obvious that this man was not just a drunk - he was a 'mean' drunk.

For a moment, I wished I had brought the shotgun --- or the snake...

As I said earlier, I don't spend much time at the Municipal Dump - but, I have to assume that this sort of thing happens fairly frequently. I only say that because no sooner than the festivities had begun, a member of our County Sheriff's Department emerged from the "Dump Lord's" trailer and began to size up the situation... By this time, the El Camino driver's eyes were red with rage and he roared incomprehensibly for several minutes - punctuating each statement by slamming his hand down on the hood of the car. I was speechless...

Fortunately, as with any hurricane, he eventually ran out of wind and threw open his car door to leave... the empty cans tumbled to the ground around him.

This gave the Uniformed Representative pause...

"Have you been drinking, Sir?" For the first time that afternoon, the El Camino driver was without response --- Having been mum up until that point, I decided to help him... "He told me he'd only had one..." and with that I jumped into the truck and headed home, not waiting for the 'tests of manual dexterity' and the 'breath-a-lyzer' that had become --- inevitable.

Oh sure, I probably didn't make any new friends that day... but, I did clear out the garage, eliminate a 'nest of snakes', satisfy my wife and maybe - just maybe - I made the road a safer place for all of us...


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