Tuesday, June 3, 2014

How was YOUR day?

"How was YOUR day?" is an excerpt from the eBook 
Life Bits and Other Chunks: Memoirs of an untrained man by Stephen L. Wilson.
Available at Smashwords, Amazon and Nook. All rights reserved.  © 2013.

We needed a car. Desperately.
While riding to work with a friend, I happened to notice a mid ‘70’s station wagon for four hundred dollars. I bought it.
The car certainly had flaws. The rear hatch was a dinosaur of a load, and didn’t latch properly. The weight kept it shut, for the most part. I noticed the idiot lights on the dashboard didn’t work. I found out the hard way when I ran the oil dry. I guess that doesn’t necessarily make me the genius, right? Little did I know, the worst was yet to come.
Here it was, the first week of December. Bitter cold wind blowing in from the Rockies, lashing out over the plains of Oklahoma. Ice was the main weather issued by Mother Nature.
 I had left for work early to make sure I had plenty of time to make it to the studio, where I worked as a photographer. When I arrived and shut off the ‘wagon, I noticed a burning smell. After getting out and sniffing around, I opened the hood. I immediately noticed smoke emerging from an area deep in the engine. As the studio was still locked, it took me a few seconds to get inside and grab the fire extinguisher. I blasted the smoke spot with white powder, and it immediately disappeared.
 I was careful to avoid essential areas of the engine compartment, such as the carburetor, radiator and battery. In fact, the shot was pretty clean and I figured I lucked out and could take a chance on driving the beast back home after work. I threw the fire extinguisher in the clunker before I jumped on the highway for the half-hour trip back home.
There I was, bookin’ down the highway. I looked to my left, and a guy in a blue sedan was frantically jabbing his finger towards the front of my car, and hollering something. Instantly I knew what was going on, and I pulled over. I popped the hood, and leaped out, fire extinguisher at hand. I lifted the hood, aimed and squeezed. Nothing. The engine fire was now responding to the enhanced oxygen exposure, and it intensified increasingly.
 I about crapped! Apparently, I used up all of the juice in the fire extinguisher, or something. Later I found out that they need to be recharged. Ignorance was not bliss, in this case.
I looked around at the concrete shoulder. There was some dirt and gravel built up along the edge. I scooped a fine handful, ran back to the car, and threw it straight into the engine gap from where the smoke was by now belching. By the grace of God, or some other miracle, it was enough. My dilapidated car was once again flameless.
I still had a ways to go, and knew I needed a different plan. I took the next exit, and stopped at a gas station. I called my buddy and explained my predicament. He said he would drive over to where I was, and follow me home.
When he arrived, he brought along a six-pack of beer. After all, it was Friday, and I had already had a helluva day. We’d head home and figure out what was up with the dinosaur. Maybe after a few beers in, we may just have the mystery solved. Little did we know…
So I’m almost home, my buddy behind me. We were in a residential neighborhood a mile or so from the hacienda. The next thing you know, my buddy is flashing his lights and honking his horn at me. On fire again.
I started to pull into the first driveway, which was cement, but then I noticed a gravel alley close by. I pulled in there, leaped out and popped the hood again. I was pretty proud of myself. This maneuver was becoming more natural. I felt like a cat. A cat with a burning vehicle.
I opened the hood. I re-realized the whole oxygen/fire thing. You would think I would have learned from the previous incident. Apparently the whole ‘idiot light’ thing didn’t sink in, either.
 So here we are, smoke continually and progressively pouring out of the valley in my engine. I reach down and grab the first thing I get my hands on, which is icy pea gravel. I pitched a healthy handful towards the menacing crevasse. Unfortunately, my aim was poor, and pea gravel scattered across the entire engine compartment. By now I see the flames licking the bottom of the engine block. I back out from under the hood and bump into my buddy, who has the beer out, and is opening one. He proceeds to dump it into the engine. The flame hissed and went silent. My buddy took no chances. He poured another onto the smoldering metal. This did the trick, and I was able to get the car home. Bad thing was, when we made it home, I only got one beer. I guess the two we sacrificed turned out to be mine.
The car was home, and I finally arrived at our lovely domicile shared by my wife and two kids. My youngest was six weeks old, my oldest three years old. Our ‘lovely domicile’ was actually a drug-, gang- and crime- riddled apartment complex in Oklahoma City. It was all we could afford at the time, and we knew going in that it was only temporary.
In fact, we had been in contact with the owner of the house right next to my buddy. There was work to be done before it was move-in ready, and I was in communication with him about helping to fix it up. In the meantime, here we are, living in Cracktown, U.S.A.
I climbed up the stairs to the apartment, went in and relaxed a bit. My wife told me that the complex owner had called, and wanted to know if and how we paid rent that month. It seems that the manager of the complex had absconded with all of the cash and check rent payments. My wife was able to produce a receipt, but it was still quite a shocker to live in a place where this was happening. In addition to this latest turn of events, there had been several arrests within the apartments during our course of residence there. Helicopters had flown over with search lights blazing on several occasions.
One time I was on our balcony stoop. Suddenly, a siren started up, and a cop started following a white import car on the main street, heading my direction. The car pulled into the apartment complex driveway, directly below my vantage point. The driver opened the door and got out of the car. The officer announced on the intercom for the driver to get back in the vehicle. The driver turned and ran right below where I was standing, and dashed into the main complex area! The cop jumped out and chased the perpetrator while calling in for backup on his shoulder mike. This turned into a whole helicopter event. I never did find out if they caught the guy.
After all of this, and hearing what my wife had to say, I knew we had to get out of this place. We were in the living room talking this over, when suddenly there were several popping sounds, followed by loud thumps against our bedroom walls. My young daughter jumped up and ran towards a window. I immediately hollered ‘Get Down’ and put myself on top of her. The pops and thumping continued at a rapid rate and ended suddenly. A car squealed and rumbled off outside. I knew that the sounds were gunshots and bullets hitting our apartment walls.
My wife went to get my infant son, and then she joined my daughter and me. We remained on the floor for several minutes, discussing what had just happened. Very quickly after, we heard sirens.
At this point, I went to the bedroom to see if there were any bullet holes. Sure enough, there were two holes. I followed the path of one, and it came through the wall, through the mattress, and into another wall. It so happens that it went right underneath the very pillow where my wife lays her head every night. The other bullet came up at a sharper angle, and went out the ceiling.
It dawned on us that our neighbor below must have taken the brunt of the bullets. I scrambled down the stairs to see if she needed help.
The door to her filthy, roach-ridden cube was already open. I called her name, and she appeared from the back cradling her two-year old child. He was one of three belonging to this single mother.
She was sobbing and clutching her middle child. I asked her if they needed any help. She said she didn’t think so, but I should take a look. I went back into her bedroom and the sight was surreal. Her window was shattered and her mini-blinds were punctured and battered. Many bullets had penetrated the space, creating chunky holes. The ricochet streaks around the room created a cacophony of visual insult.
There, in the middle of the bed, was her youngest child, peacefully sleeping, stuffed toy in hand. The discordance of the scene was striking, and definitely made me aware that fate had intervened for the sake of this young one.
An officer arrived and gathered my info. He sent his partner up to talk to my wife and see the damage in our apartment. I left as the officer started talking to my neighbor. After talking to the cop in our apartment, my wife and I placed our now sleeping daughter in bed, and wandered outside to see how things were progressing.
Many of our neighbors were outside, gathered near the scene. When we joined the group, they were discussing the whole manager-stealing-our-rent-money incident. A few in the crowd quickly caught us up on the gunfire situation. It turns out, a gang member emptied a clip on a rival gang member. The meat wagon had already hauled him off, and the cops were securing the crime scene.
 At some point, a local news channel arrived, and interviewed a few people, my wife included. Before he left, my wife asked if her interview would be aired. He said he wasn’t sure, but the story definitely would be.
The very next day I called the owner of the house next to my buddy and told him we ABSOLUTELY needed to leave these apartments. I told him what had been happening, and to watch the news. The news ended up playing the clip with my wife, and we wound up moving. I had to lay some carpet and a few other things, but that house worked really well for us.
As for the car, it turned out that a fuel line had gone bad, and I ended up replacing all of the hoses and rubber lines on the beast. Well, all except that little one at the bottom. You know, the short one with the clamps at impossible angles, way underneath the engine where a sane person cannot reach? As it turns out, I should have replaced it, too. But that is for another story.
So. How was your week?

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