Russell wanted to play my Mousetrap game and I wanted to see his farm. He asked his folks if I could spend the weekend at his place and I asked my folks if I could go. It was a win-win situation. A cultural exchange between suburbia and the grange. Russell and me couldn't wait for Friday to roll around. I brought my gear to school and his mom picked us up after and drove us a few miles outside Baton Rouge to their property. We were two happy ten year old boys.
It was a small mixed use operation, mainly focused on beef but there was poultry, swine and some dairy animals as well as horses and a few acres of garden. It was big enough that they had a permanent hired hand called Lercy. He was a mysterious, almost tubercular looking man and I remember wondering how he was physically strong enough to actually help. He drove a rusty blue tractor and it was all done up with pictures of naked women taped everywhere inside. Only he or the cat was allowed to sit in the seat.
Russell's dad was a tall, strong young man all dressed up like a cowboy, which was something I hadn't seen too much of in Louisiana. His wife was a sassy red-head brimming with good cheer, confidence, pride and freckles. There was an older brother who's purpose on this earth appeared to be keeping Russell sharp. Kinda reminded me of my own sister.
We got my stuff stowed away in the boys' room and were given a snack. It was time to tour the property. Russell led me around to where the chicken coops were and showed off the rooster who sat atop the little house with a kingly air. Not too far away was an enclosure for some big ole pigs. They were the pink skinned type with white fur. When I saw them they were slathered with black mud and blue clay. They were happily snuffling up what looked like kitchen scraps.
There was a small corral across the way with two horses and a few more wandered the property and came from time to tome to drink from a huge galvanized trough. The balance of the buildings other than the big house was a massive barn, a silo and some various sized pens for cows and an enigmatic turnstile affair, I couldn't figure out the purpose of. Also there was a big long concrete trough full of some nasty looking chemical brew.
Way off to the back was what seemed to me at the time, an endless stretch of good grassland and you could see the herd of cows ruminating under shady patches where some oaks grew by a pond. In addition there were two German Shepherd dogs and a big, dusty black cat. Presently, we heard a commotion from the barn. We stopped at the silo to talk to Lercy. He was busy with some kind of small metal cage. He stood up as straight as he could and answered my many questions about the silo.
“We store a whole lot of grain in there boy. To feed the animals. Also, tell you what, 'tween you and me and the fence-post, if a man puts one of them clay jugs all corked up in the bottom before it gets filled up, guess what you get later on?”
“I don't know”
“Corn squeezins boy, that's what. White lightning.”
“How can it get into a sealed up jar.”
“Boy, the pressure is so heavy that it just forces the juice of the silage through. Drop by drop, kinda like.”
“Yes, Sir. Thanks for teaching me.”
“Nothing to it, son. Now ya'll go on, I got a little job.”
Russell and I ran across to the big open door and wandered inside. The shadowy interior was much cooler and it felt good. The eyes took a moment to adjust. Russell's brother was swinging from a rope, strung from a ceiling beam and jumping off the hay loft to land in a pile of broken bales on the floor. Sunday afternoons were Tarzan movie days in Baton Rouge and every boy worth his salt could imitate the cry of the jungle lord.
We amused ourselves for hours trying to best each other in length of swing, volume of yodel and complexity of dismount. After quite some time, a tall gaunt shadow appeared at the door. It was Lercy and he was toting a big gunny-sack. He shifted his faded welders cap on his sweaty brow and whistled loudly. We turned our attention and saw the two Shepherds come running.
“Lookie here, boys,” he said holding forth the bag which was tied with a knot on top and clearly held something alive struggling to get out.
He swung the bag three times as the dogs jumped around his feet and then tossed it in our direction. The dogs went wild and began to attack the bag from different angles. Shrill squeaks issued forth from the burlap and one of the dogs grabbed the whole shebang and shook it violently. That dog yelped and dropped it immediately. The other hound had a try with the same results and as we watched the two attackers, they worked out a way to each grab one lump at each end of the bag and shake it like a gravel sorter. Soon, they dropped it on the dirt and made a few lunging bites. The bag lay still and the dogs sat, panting.
Lercy strode over and untied the sack. He lifted it up and shook out the contents. Two huge rats plopped out on the ground, quite dead and bloody. He gave a command and the little wolves trotted out the door with their prey and loped into the sultry heat of the day.
“Them dogs done opened up a big ole can of Whoop-Ass!” said Russell.
“Hot dang!” I said, somewhat shaken by the unexpected gladiatorial interlude.
“That's how you learn 'em to kill rats without getting hurt till they figure out the best way to go about it. Come on now, Missus says to call ya'll for supper, boys.”
We had a wonderful meat and potatoes meal in which every last thing down to the butter on the bread was home-made and brimming with goodness. It was no wonder some of those kids I went to elementary school with were so big and healthy. We all ate like farmhands, literally. Lercy went to do some early evening chores and the father went to prepare something for the morrow they had been discussing at dinner.
I wasn't familiar with the terminology they were using so it made no impact on me. The elder boy was sent to do some chores with the smaller animals and Russell and I were guided to clear up the table and go get our hides clean so we could play that dad-gummed game he was so anxious to try. He had talked incessantly of it ever since I had mentioned it at school one day. I could tell that the family was already weary of hearing about it. I also knew that it was the main reason I had been invited by Russell.
It was a crazy contraption wherein, a small ball bearing was put through a hap-hazard obstacle course of mechanical devices that each triggered another portion of the ball's progress. Eventually, if everything went right, a small basket came down on a mouse, trapping it to win the game. The full run of the machine when once set in motion ran for more than a full minute and appealed to the engineer and inventor inside every little boy. Being heavily promoted on TV, it was well known long before it became available.
We scrubbed up by turns and soon were laying with our feet under the bunk-beds and assembling the intricate structure. As soon as we had it built and set, Russell demanded to take it apart and rebuild it so he could learn how it went for when he got his. We did this and I enjoyed the building of it as much or more than the stupid rules and the long dance leading up to triggering the trap and catching the mouse. At lights out, we put it away and I spread out my sleeping bag where we had been playing. Russell's brother snored all night.
The farm was already going full-tilt when we got ourselves dressed next morning. Russell's Mom greeted us and listened to her son describe all the parts of the Mousetrap machine. She was busy making a whopping big breakfast as there were extra hands on deck this morning. There would be a few more men who had been hired for the day. She handed me a big colander and told us to go out where her husband was. Evidently we were going to bring part of the breakfast back with us in that bowl. I was intrigued and proud to be helpful.
“Are we having prairie oysters?” asked Russell with a grin.
“We sure are, hon.”
“What are prairie oysters?”
I reckoned they were some type of fresh-water species and we would gather them up at the pond. My mouth watered remembering my Grandma's Texas seafood gumbo chock full of fresh oysters.
“Come on. You'll see.”
We ran out the kitchen door to the turnstile thing I had seen the day before. Russell's father was relieving his bladder a few feet away from the contraption where a long handle jutted out to the side. He had hung his gloves on the handle and Lercy was there holding a pair of some kind of fancy pliers. There was a couple of men in one of the small pens with a fire going. I knew from watching Bonanza what was going on. They were branding calves.
Russell's father rolled a smoke and told him to show me around first. We went over to where a bunch of small calves had been separated out from the herd into a big pen. Men were leading them through a little walkway one by one to the cement trough where they were encouraged to walk through some kind of medicine dip. The little fellows seemed to want to do it no more than a young boy wants to bathe.
After a good splashing, they were led to the branding area. Here they were hobbled and laid down by a big black man while a Mexican looking fellow pulled an iron out of the little fire and burned in the tattoo on the animal's hind-quarters. The hair smoke stunk of sulfur but the calf didn't bleat any louder than he had when getting his medicine bath. He was let up and directed to another corridor of temporary fence which led right up to the turnstile. We ran back alongside. When the hoofer stepped into the turnstile, Russel's Pa pulled hard on the long handle. The two walls of welded pipe closed like a Venus flytrap onto the calf's sides, immobilizing it.
Lercy squatted down and after adjusting his cap, he reached a bony arm through the pipes and grabbed the calf by the testicles. The other hand came through the bars wielding the pliers and I heard a snick. There on the dusty ground were two longish blobs that resembled chicken livers. Lercy tossed them a few feet away, the lever was raised and the calf ran down to join his mates in a big pen where another man doctored the cut.
This I hadn't seen on TV and I said, “Gawd dawg!”
“It don't hurt 'em none, Mike. That's so they don't grow up and trample everybody. You see, that's the difference in a steer and a bull. Bull still has all his tackle. We keep a couple for breeding separate from the rest,” said Russel's Dad.
I was always thirsty to learn any and everything from anyone who would waste the time to talk to me and this aided my quick recovery from what I had just seen. Wanting to reciprocate, I asked the man where I could find those prairie oysters I was supposed to gather up for our breakfast. I had a white-knuckle grip on my colander and hoped to be sent to the pond yonder.
Before he could answer, Lercy grinned and motioned to the blobs in the dirt that had been hanging from the calf a moment ago.
I looked at Russell and then at his father to see if I was being fooled.
“He's telling you true, son. Ya'll stay right here till we get your bowl full and then bring it on in to my wife.”
I decided to make the best of it. I grabbed up the tissue and plopped it in the bowl. The next calf came and many more behind it. The process was like a well-oiled machine. I started to feel a pride at my infinitesimal part in garnering a living from the soil. The ancient spirit of gathering any kind of food came among us and we started to celebrate as the colander filled up. It was like picking black-berries or catching fish and watching the pile getting bigger.
“We gonna have us a big bunch of prairie oysters,” I chirped.
“Wait till you taste my momma's buttermilk biscuits,” said Russell.
“Goes mighty nice with that bacon, yeah boy,” said Lercy.
“How about we finish this nut-cutting before we start talking food,” said the Boss.
“Then we get to play Mousetrap,” chimed in Russell.
When our bowl was full we raced across to the kitchen and proudly handed over the prize. The lady of the house took the colander and rinsed all the dust off thoroughly. She looked over at me and said I didn't have to eat them if I didn't want to. I told her I sure did want to, if that's what they ate. She smiled and dried them off on a towel, dusted them with flour, salt and pepper and fried them up in a big black skillet. Russel's brother came in with a basket of fresh eggs.
It was one of the best breakfasts I have had down to this day. It was the first and last time I had prairie oysters. They were delicious as I recall. On Sunday morning I had to go home and after rolling up my sleeping bag, I gave the Mousetrap game to Russell. It was the least I could do after such a rarefied weekend. I would have swapped places with him if I could have figured out a way.
When I was a little boy in Baton Rouge, my Dad gave me a spanking new wooden shoeshine kit. It had a carrying handle and a place to keep the black, brown, oxblood and clear polishes. There was, in addition, a bottle of sole dressing for brown and black, some saddle soap, a soft brush, a stiff brush and several different kinds of flannel clothes. Built on top was a wooden footrest for the “customer” to step on.
My father was a sharp-dressed man and had his monogrammed white cotton shirts tailor-made in Hong Kong and he wore them with fancy cuff-links. His pants were also tailor-made and he had a flotilla of fine shoes. At any given time, in those days he had ten pairs of brown and ten pairs of black. Mostly, he preferred loafers with leather tassels. The leathers ranged from cowhide to Louisiana alligator.
I was patiently shown once and once only how to spit-polish a shoe to a military mirror sheen. It became another of my personal chores around the house to keep these twenty pairs in mint condition. My work would be inspected at the end of my labor and all the rejected shoes would be left on the newspaper to have another going over. I grew to hate the job in about twenty minutes and I had that job for several years.
The worst part was scraping off the clay which we called gumbo mud down there. It dried on as hard as mortar and he picked up a lot of it on his daily rounds providing for us. My personal taste was to be bare-footed or to have beat-up shoes that you didn't fret over, so you could concentrate on catching snakes and lizards and climbing trees. My grandfather didn't shine his shoes and he wore pants he made from old sail-cloth. As a child I figured my dad was a dandy and although I appreciated how fine he looked, I didn't plan to emulate his style.
Five months after I turned twenty my father died. That was up in Canada and the circumstances were sketchy. It was a violent death and he was only a few days one side of fifty years old. He never got to meet my wife. He had left home at fifteen years old with a ten dollar bill rolled up in his sleeve. That was in 1942. He first found work in Montreal as a cabin boy and sailed through the War in the Atlantic. He was self educated and self-made. He worked in the jungles of Colombia and the streets of Houston.
About five years after he passed I was divorced and courting my second wife. I had recently purchased my first ever new vehicle. It was a white Toyota short-box pick-up with a manual transmission. I camperized it and decided to take my fiancee on a journey through my past and show her the South land. We headed out one morning and used KOA campgrounds to spend the nights and save on expenses. The first such site was in Oregon and when I crossed the California line and got past Mt. Shasta, my left wrist began to itch.
The irritation was a small pimple under my watch-band. In another hour after noticing it, I had to remove the watch. The pimple was a boil within three hours of noticing it and by the time I pulled into Chinatown in San Francisco, I had a large open lesion weeping copiously. My entire arm was throbbing and a red line was extending along the nearest vein toward my elbow.
Over dim sum, my fiancee asked the waiter in Chinese where we could walk to a Chinese doctor and pay cash. The fellow scribbled instructions on a napkin and after a ten minute walk, we were in the small office. The doctor had a good long look and asked a few questions. He then consulted a book on his little shelf and pointed out a picture to me. It was of a small brown spider.
The article said it was a Brown Recluse and the doctor said, that while he couldn't be certain, he would be willing to bet that I had been bitten by this little devil while I slept. I was given a large jar of pills at a reasonable price and instructed to begin them immediately and not to miss one. We stayed for dinner at my uncle's place near Frisco and it was the last time I saw my cousin, my uncle and my dad's sister. By the time I got to the Tony Lama Factory outlet outside of El Paso, my wound was as small as a pimple again. I bought a pair of plain brown cowboy boots for a ridiculously low price and started to feel pretty sassy.
We next holed up at my grandma's place in Beaumont where she anxiously awaited seeing my new truck. My grandfather had recently passed and she had me pore over his books and personal effects in case there was anything I wanted. I loaded up some China dishes for my mother and declined to take anything else. I even turned down a pair of pearl-handled Navy Colt 45 revolvers that had been gifted to the old Swedish sailor during WWII by the US Government. I cherish things given by people when they are alive to do the giving but shun anything of a personal nature after a person has passed.
After a couple of days of the Beaumont humidity, it was time to head East. We bade farewell to my grandma and crossed the Sabine River into Louisiana. There is a long causeway on this route that straddles the Atchafalaya Swamp. For many miles, the motorist is three or four feet above an alligator soup with cottonmouths for noodles. As my poor heat-stricken companion lay in the back holding cold pop cans to her forehead, I got my first flat tire.
The right passenger side tried to wipe the guard-rail and I was fortunate to be able to bring everything to a safe stop. I explained to my gal there would be a slight delay and set to work. I moved a beer-cooler twenty yards away to warn the on comers and jacked up the truck to a chorus of crickets, alligators, frogs and cicadas. My woman looked out the back at the expanse of sweltering duck-weed covered stagnant water and old cypress stumps draped in Spanish Moss and nearly began to cry.
The repairs went as well as can be expected using stock tools. Ever since then I have carried my own tire irons. Not too much later we were crossing the Mississippi and cruising on into my old neighborhood in Baton Rouge. After one stop at a street corner for directions I found my old school and then my old street.
It was very strange to drive slow down the street I had learned to ride a bicycle on. I found my old house and just gazed awhile at it and recounted a few stories to my partner. After a bit, I drove down the end of the block to the house of my first friend. We had been inseparable for the five and a half years I had lived there. I had no idea if he was still there.
I smiled when I saw the pirogue in the driveway where his father always kept it. The small aluminum boat hadn't changed a bit. I rang the bell and got no answer. I decided to walk around the back and when I did, I saw a big stout young man sitting with a glass of ice tea studying a text book. It was my friend's little brother who had been about three feet tall when I left town.
We went inside the familiar house and I was told that we were welcome to await his parents arrival but that my friend was away at university in Texas. I was somewhat overwhelmed by the whole day and had planned on a lightening visit that maybe would last an hour and then I was taking my sugar to see New Orleans. The truth was that I was so attached to this man's parents, I wasn't sure if I could hold my tears if I did see them or if I could drag myself away from my bayou beginnings and go back to the cool blue North.
I made some excuse and after a brief chat we were on the road. My gal was somewhat revived and able to see the old antebellum mansions that line the back roads into the Big Easy. Just as the sun had lost its sting we pulled up at the football dome and got oriented as to how to get to the French Quarter. Before long, I had the truck stashed in an underground parking lot and a room booked. We cleaned up and sallied forth.
Our first stop was to be a famous bar called the Old Absinthe House. It was on Bourbon St. and was nearly two hundred years old. Oscar Wilde, P.T. Barnum, Mark Twain, Jenny Lind, Enrico Caruso, General Robert E Lee, Franklin Roosevelt, Liza Minelli and Frank Sinatra were just a few of the patrons of this bar. The pirate Jean Lafitte and President Andrew Jackson are said to have planned the action for the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812 on the second floor. The ghost of Lafitte is said to linger yet.
I had never been there before and knew it from reputation and local legend. It is still said today that everyone you know or ever will know, will someday visit this bar. Two hundred years worth of business and calling cards are tacked to its walls by tradition.
We found the place at the corner of Bourbon and Bienville. It was still very light outside and it took a moment for our eyes to adjust to the dimly lit interior. I spent a long time perusing the business cards pinned to the historic walls and added my own Cherokee Gas card from my little one man gas-fitting enterprise in North Vancouver. Presently, I led my sweetheart to the bar. She didn't drink alcohol and I ordered her something cool and ordered myself the new legal variety of the house special.
It was then I noticed we weren't alone. As I took my first sip of the bitter astringent Herbsaint. A man sat two stools away and appeared to be quietly and completely drunk. He had a big conspiratorial grin on his face and leaned over as close to us as he could muster without falling off his stool. When my eyes met his, two things happened. He gestured with his glass a sort of salute that carried more goodwill and care not to spill than I had ever witnessed.
The second thing was that I instantly recognized Rod Stewart. He looked very tired and very drunk. I sure enjoyed his earlier music with the Faces and wasn't too fond of his latest endeavors. I was in a peculiar mood that afternoon and the way it manifested was in my instant decision not to ask for an autograph. I nodded politely as if I hadn't recognized him. I turned my attention to my girl and told her who it was and not to make any commotion about it.
She was also in a mood and it suited her just fine to ignore the star completely. We had been quarreling and the trip had taken an emotional toll on both of us for different reasons. Each time I peeked along the bar I was met by his eyes. Now they seemed to express surprise that we knew him not. He seemed to be on the verge of introducing himself. Sitting there with my Chinese fiancee, I recalled the lyrics of one of his songs.
Locked in our own selfish youthful passion, we snubbed him tag-team style. Half of me felt extremely rude for not acknowledging the minstrel and the other half of me reasoned that it was probably a relief to him to have a quiet drink away from fans and sycophants. I'll never know which was correct and we left after one drink to go to our next objective.
We walked the half dozen blocks to Jackson Square and there on the corner of Decatur and St. Ann we treated ourselves to coffee and chicory at the old Cafe Du Monde. This landmark has been in operation 24 -7 since 1862. I still drink their coffee and chicory today when I can get it. I'm sipping on it right now, as a matter of fact. When my lady finished her beignet we strode back to our hotel.
A few blocks from our objective we saw a black man shining shoes in a doorway. As we came down the sidewalk he began to shout out to us. Rather, he began to address my fiancee.
“Lord have mercy, Miss lady. Mmm-mmmm-mmm! I feels sorry for ya. Havin' to walk wit dat man wit him nasty scuffed up boots an all. Its a shameful thang, sho' nuff. Beautiful lady like you walking all embarrassed 'cause yo man ain't troubled hisself to put some shine on them fine Tony Lamas. I been to Vietnam and back agin' and I ain't never seen the like. Let me tell you what, Mista Boots come over hyeah and put you foot up. I am goin' to fix yo lil problem fo free, naw wut I'm sayin? Get on over now. It's fo the little lady's sake.”
I looked down at my scuffy “new” boots and became very self-conscious. I never could dress up very well and my wife to be always looked as if she'd just left a fashion show no matter what she wore. I remembered my shoeshine kit and how much I'd hated the job. There was nothing to do but comply. Another young man passed by as I received my military spit-polish shine and paused. He was dressed to kill and he bowed low like they do in parts of Europe.
“Sir, I commend you on your impeccable taste in women.”
Then he was gone.
“See what I'm sayin' Mista Boots? You got a mighty fine lady and this here is New Orleans.”
He flapped out a rhythm with his flannel and when the song ended I could see our reflections. Baby snapped a picture and glowed with her first brush of the genteel South. She was showered with compliments, all of them in good taste and earnestly spoken. Our moods lightened considerably. I paid the man double what he would have charged, if he would have charged. He accepted only the usual fee and then only after I firmly insisted.
I told him about my shoeshine box in Baton Rouge and the twenty pairs of shoes. I explained that this was why I was reluctant to have shiny shoes ever since or ask any man to shine them for me. He looked up and smiled like a Cajun sunrise.
“Mista Boots, might jus be dat yo Daddy wuz tryin ta learn you ta feed yo own self, naw wut I'm sayin?”
I didn't ponder that observation for a second. It wasn't what I wanted to hear. We parted company with the shoe-shine man and started to head back up to Vancouver the next morning. We spent ten years together, all told and we had a son. That son gave me a bundle of photos one day last year he had taken from his mother's collection. He was about the same age as I had been that time in New Orleans. The picture of that shoe-shine man was right on top of the pile.
I retired a few months later from the Post Office and moved to Lillooet. Last week I was walking to the Post Office and passed a new second hand store. There in the window was a plain brown pair of Justin cowboy boots from Ft. Worth. I stopped to look. I broke my foot about twenty years ago and it grew back a different size. I haven't been able to wear western boots ever since. I was drawn to at least try them on for nostalgia's sake.
I asked to borrow a pair of socks and the proprietor's wife found a suitable pair. I sat down and tugged them on. I expected to wince in pain at the first step and that wasn't the case. Somehow, the two boots were of a proper throat to hold my normal foot and of a sufficient width to accommodate my oversize foot. It was extraordinary and the price was right. They had less than two miles on them. I wore them home. A few days later I noticed that a hairline crack ran across the leather sole of one.
This explained the odd combination of low mileage and low price. Two applications of contact cement and they were good to go. The heels are relieving some back pains I have suffered since taking off my mail bags after thirty years. I don't know if I will polish them much. Probably I won't. While I was repairing them today I realized that it had never crossed my mind as a boy to take my shoe-shine kit out into the street and make some loot. It was never once suggested to me either. I was supposed to figure that out by myself. Roddy was right, I guess every picture does tell a story, don't it?
It started as a usual Monday. I picked up Lars at his apartment in North Vancouver and we made our way in the old postal vehicle my boss had bought at auction to his warehouse on Esplanade. It lay across from the Burrard Dry Docks and Shipyard. You could hear the clang from our warehouse as three chip-scows were being fabricated.
The operation had employed as many as 14,000 people in its day who had built myriad ships with a count just shy of 500 by 1988. The St Roch was built there, the first ship to circumnavigate North America and the first ship to navigate the Northwest Passage from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Victory freighters were turned out here faster than Großadmiral Karl Dönitz could sink them.
As I write, men with vision have all but succeeded in turning it into condominiums and tourist-trap markets. I'm glad I didn't know that as I parked and unlocked the front door. There was much commotion in the warehouse next door. A fleet of odd vehicles assembled as we were turning on the lights and preparing our supplies for the day. As we loaded our rig with pipe, fittings, sheet-metal and appliances the collection of trailers grew.
I was at a loss as to who these people were. Men scurried to and fro unloading equipment and miles of cable. The only thing I had seen similar was when an outdoor stage was being prepared for a multi-day concert. At length, Lars figured it out. It was a movie company setting up for a shoot. The location was the interior of the neighboring warehouse. The two of us watched for a bit and Lars asked one young man what was the movie they were shooting.
The film was to be called “Motherlode”. It was about a crazed lone Scottish miner searching for El Dorado in British Columbia. When we asked who was the star, we were quickly told that Charlton Heston was playing the miner and some gal named Kim Basinger and a fellow named Mancuso were also in the film. I'd never heard of the youngsters but I sure knew my Moses! I asked an electrician if Charlton was coming that day. The answer was yes. Lars asked about Kim Basinger and was very sad when he was informed that she wasn't in the scene being shot that day.
To cheer him up I began exchanging snippets of Ten Commandments dialogue as we loaded our truck. Soon, Lars was Yul Brynner in the character of Ramses II with a sheet-metal crown and I marched around with a length of one inch gas-pipe threatening to turn it into a serpent if Lars didn't let my people go. We still had some time before the boss was due to appear and we decided to wait for Charlie to come on set.
When the loading was done and we were having our first sip of thermos coffee, Lars went to the doorway, pacing leopard-like, ever the Pharaoh.
Presently he came back to the sheet-metal brake which served as our table. Legs splayed and hands on his hips, he bellowed, “Moses, those bastiges are lining up for breakfast and I'll be plagued by frogs if I don't join them. We work harder than those guys and they are on our turf. Are you with me?”
When it came to mischief, Lars was usually the young Scipio and I was usually the elder Fabianus. In contrast to those actual men, we complemented each other, rather than attempting to cancel each other out. It was decided that we take Carthage at once. I strode to the window with my staff and had a look. A huge gourmet catering truck had lifted its flaps and was dishing out omelets worthy of a five-star hotel. I studied the line up for awhile.
Presently, I turned to my young partner. I had an idea. I went to the laundry bag and pulled out two sets of dirty blue boiler suits. They belonged to the gas-fitter employed by my boss's warehouse partner. Our boss thought them too expensive so we dressed in our own grease stained jeans and work shirts. I tossed one pair to Lars and began to pull on another.
“Put these robes on, Son and I will take you to the mountain of Hollandaise.”
Ramses grinned and removed his crown. After a briefing we were ready to infiltrate.
“What are we?”
“What are the names of our Gods?”
“Volt, Amp and Ohm.”
“What do we seek?”
“Brekkie and word of lady Kim.”
We streamed out our door and joined the long line of technicians. Everyone had blue coveralls and all attention was to the interior of the warehouse whose door had been flung wide to reveal a fake mineshaft. There, surrounded by a small coterie of people in street clothes was Mr. Heston. He had a graying beard and wore suspenders instead of a robe but all I saw was Moses, El Cid and Ben Hur.
Lars piled his plate with waffles and kid-stuff and I ordered four eggs on Rusks with Crab Hollandaise and enough bacon rashers to hide them under. We took our bounty into the set and milled about listening to Heston and the other cast-members discuss their objectives. We never approached him for an autograph due to being under-cover. I found it far more interesting to observe the man in his natural environment acting naturally, rather than playing himself to fans.
We went back for some espresso coffee and had a smoke out on the driveway. Presently, the technicians were being told to get to work by their foreman. Lars winked and we crab-walked over the few yards to our own door and removed the boiler-suits inside. We had just pulled out of the driveway when the boss rolled in. We tooted our horn and went to meet the day. It was going to be a good one.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.