Road Song

Wow! Time flies when you’re having fun. So here I sit, noon chimes passed, sentenced to filling this space again. No. Just kidding. I look forward to this.

Anyway, the day started early. Had to be at the gym for 8 a.m. and, after a robust workout, scooted home, took the dogs on a brisk mile-plus walk through Sunken Meadow, uncharacteristically open yet muddy this winter. Back home, I filled the wood cradle, swept up and took a call from Bill Betty, the Rhode Island cougar expert who, word has it, gives intriguing two-hour Power Point presentations and lectures on the subject. He wants to do one in my tavern ballroom come April. I may just cooperate. Why not? We’ll see. Google him. He’s fun and outspoken. But to be honest, I’ve had my fill of cougars for now. Need a break. So maybe I’ll just ramble. Touch on random subjects that pierce my consciousness as I sit here stirring the imaginative cauldron, always dangerous for a man who’s never shied from mischief.

Speaking of which, how about little Chub-Chub, my 10-month-old Springer Spaniel who’s no longer little or chubby. Oh well. I could see it coming long ago. Now the little guy’s been introduced to his first TriTronics collar, one that’s been sitting in its charger for months. Fact is, Chubby didn’t require the disciplinary tool until recently, when he suddenly grew from independent to defiant, my kinda fella. But still, I don’t want him to break free and get hit in the road, thus the collar, which extends my disciplinary arm a half-mile.

The battery-operated shock collar is controlled by a remote control I hang around my neck on a lanyard. The gadget controls three color-coded collars, black, red and blue. One dial selects the targeted color, another sets the shock intensity, beginning with an audible warning. The way it works is that when you give a command and the dog ignores it, you give him an audible (beep) warning and, if he doesn’t respond, follow it up with a low-level shock. If the animal|doesn’t respond to gentle persuasion, you increase the intensity until it does. After a few “corrections,” the dog associates the beep with the subsequent shock and obeys commands. In fact, once a smart dog knows the game and the collar is on, you seldom need the beep; it responds to your verbal or whistle commands.

Chubby learned fast. After months of ignoring my neighbor’s chickens, which I feed and enjoy, the little liver-and-white ball of fury flushed two of them out from under my front-yard rosebush and took after them with vigor as a well-bred bird dog should. When he ignored my command to “leave it” and continued the rambunctious chase, coming dangerously close to the road, I said to my wife, “Well, Joey, as much as I like what I see, I guess it’s time for that collar.” She agreed, nodding.

Well, when I strapped the collar on Chubby the next day and was presented with “a situation,” he ignored the beep and I began experimenting with the shock at levels 1 and 2. When he didn’t blink, I increased it to 3 (out of 5) and he yipped, shook like he had just exited water and ran back to me. The next day on the way back to my truck from a walk, he took after a flock of what looked like seagulls, flushed about 100 of them across the road and got dangerously close as a truck headed his way. I hollered, “Chubby,” blew the “get-back-here-now” whistle and pushed the remote’s audible-warning button, which he totally ignored. Then, just before he reached the road, I switched to No. 3 and pushed the button. Bingo! He yipped, turned, stood on his hind legs, shook his head and neck and sprinted back to me. Ever since, he has come happily to the whistle. Problem solved.

Some people think those collars are cruel. I don’t. To me, they’re more of a safety precaution than anything else, an expensive one at that. Ask my wife. Let’s just say it’s been mentioned. I like to tell her jokingly that I wish we could have used them on the kids, to think of the legal fees we could have saved. But it seems these days you can’t even yell at kids without facing a stern judge.

As for my troublesome knee mentioned last week, well, it seems to have responded to that cortisone shot. The question is, how long will it settle my angry joint down? We’ll see. In the meantime, my weight continues its slow decline. That ought to help, too. Soon I’ll be under my first milestone of 200 pounds. I don’t remember the last time I weighed less than 200. It was probably in the late 1980s, when I was still clinging with a white-knuckled grip to my youth on local softball diamonds, which did absolutely no good for that chronic left knee. But, hey, you only go around once. That’s what I always say. So why get cheated?

I do vividly recall the first time I reached the 200 mark. It was back in the winter of 1975, when I was working a flim-flam deal for the Connecticut State Police in Danbury. Downstairs from our office was a Danish pastry shop with the richest deserts money could buy. The woman chef’s specialty was cheesecake squares with fruit topping — pineapple, cherries, strawberries, I tried them all, averaging at least two fat squares a day with coffee, and rising from 175 to 200 pounds in six weeks. When I came home for a weekend and walked through my parents’ door, my mother was standing by the kitchen table to “greet” me. “Oh my God, Gary,” she said. “I didn’t even recognize you through the window. How much weight have you gained?” So let that be a warning to stay away from cheesecake.

Of course, there was more to the story than cheesecake and its pretty little Scandanavian chef with the seductive accent. Those were my single days, living out of a suitcase in Holiday Inns and Sheratons across the land, enjoying the good life, if that’s what you call it. On that particular deal we spent our nights at Pete Demasi’s Stockyard East, a pricey New Milford, Conn., steakhouse. Later we discovered the five-star Candlewood Lake Inn Restaurant. We liked it so much that four of us moved in at cheap off-season rates, eating and drinking like royalty every freaking night. Prime rib, rack of lamb, New York strip, baked-stuffed shrimp, lobster — you name it, we ate it, more than we should have. But we were young and bulletproof back then, fresh off the UMass baseball diamond.

What’s funny is that the chef, a big man named Jimmy Campbell who attracted the elite summer  Wall Street gang, weighed more than 400 pounds, as did our boss, a man whose last name matched our then president’s. I should have paid attention to their girth but was having way too much fun. I’d guess Campbell is dead by now. Big men like him die young. But the guy took a shine to me. He liked Dewars, me Turkey, the wilder the better. We’d sit at that bar chatting and drinking and laughing and betting ballgames into the wee hours. Eventually, I joined him in the kitchen out of curiosity, picking up little tips from the master himself while offering him a hand with mundane chores. I wish I had learned more but he did teach me how to roast, broil and fry meat, not to mention raise hell in that big black Cadillac of his with a moon roof and velour seats. Next thing I knew, we were gone to a new deal, big Jim an indelible memory.

Word has it that my 400-pound boss is still going strong. At least, that’s what I was told by a telephone solicitor who tried unsuccessfully to shake me down for a police donation a few years ago. “I’ve taught a hundred men like you,” I told him, “and you could never have worked for me. I learned from the best.” We got talking and he informed me that my old boss and mentor, self-described “Honest Irv, so crooked I screw my socks on,” finally did time for telephone fraud and spent two or three years in a federal prison. I’m sure if I bumped into him today he’d tell me he had no regrets. When I knew him 35 years ago, he had set himself up quite luxuriously in the Bahamas, where he and his father often traveled to play golf and gamble. He had made a lot of money, invested it wisely in offshore tax shelters and never punched a clock or took orders from some self-centered idiot whose crowning glory each day was standing in front of the mirror and saying, “I love you.” I personally watched this big, mustachioed man deck his boss one afternoon in an Illinois parking lot. I loved it. The three years he spent in a heated cage on the taxpayers’ dime were likely, in his mind, better than a lifetime of clock-punching with a Prozac smile, then rushing home to beat the wife, kick the dog, growl at the kids and  sit with the family in the front row for Sunday worship.

Ooops. I could go on forever but had better stop before I get in over my head. I could and may well yet write a book about those days on the road, the characters I met, the scams, the mischief, the laughs, the ladies. I guess it would have to be half Henry Miller, half Knut Hamsun, debauchery and inner turmoil laid bare, traipsing back and forth between real and surreal. To be honest, I think I could write a book just about a five-day 1975 summer trip to and from Rock Springs, Wyoming, between stops in Addison, Ill., and Denver, Colo., not to mention that six-week Denver gig alone. I’d call it fiction but you’d have to be a fool to believe I made it all up. Fact is, much of it I’m not nearly creative enough to invent. I have to see it with my own eyes, live it, touch it, smell it, taste it, roll in it. That’s what it takes for me.

I can’t hold back much longer. In fact, it’s already under way, has been for a couple of years. Not the road songs. Something else. I wonder if anyone will publish it when I’m done? If so, I’ll brace for the backlash, maybe a trashy lawsuit. What a hoot that would be, pure entertainment and amusement.

Why cheat yourself, live by preachers’ rules and die of acute boredom? Not me.

Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.
Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Mad Meg theme designed by BrokenCrust for WordPress © | Top