Archive for the Humor Category

Self Esteem, Back In Vogue Again

Posted in Culture, Essay, Humor, self help, Writing with tags , , , on June 1, 2012 by McKinley Pitts

Innocent Nashvillian travels to Foreign Lands (an essay derived from a few emails I wrote back in the ’90s)

To one and all, have a Merry Summer and a Happy and Prosperous Fourth of July.


In times past I have mused about that happy-go-lucky personal mental fitness guru and ex-ectomorph, Tony Robbins, author of self-help books, motivational tapes, and fraternity pranks involving burning charcoal. Given my own sorry state of affairs (I have to work for a living), his nutty approach to life has got me to thinking about self-esteem, confidence, life, success, and how to whip it (life, that is) good. Needless to say, this is something I am sure we all have heard a lot about lately (for those who are tired of Donald Trump, Obamamama, and that wacky Bush thang). And figuring that I’ve got the inside track on this particular aspect of psychotic life approaches, I am going to pass along a bit of wisdom to those folks in the under classes.

Oprah Firewalking with Tony Robbins

Oprah Firewalking with Tony Robbins

This all came about when my boss, Dr. Mengele (a multiple personality disorder sufferer, with a tape worm, and a one-armed sadist) had me in his mahogany lined office the other day to discuss his perception of my performance.

“Greetings, Slug,” Big Joe shouted over the noise made by his huge air conditioner set into the wall of that dark, windowless room that was his sanctum sanctorum. “Vat kind of scum ist you brinkink into my place of business yourself?”

“I,…I,…I,…don’t know what you mean, I’m sure,” I replied, drawing on my typical snappy repartee.

“Listen,” Herr Doktor, sneered, as he flailed his arms wildly in an attempt to un-snag the hook that he uses to hide the fact that he has no left arm from the lining of his suit. “I am goink to give you thirty seconds to make ust profitable or its der dental drill for you.”

“But sir, there is so little time for me to do anything about our profitability, and besides, you’ve never told me that it was my responsibility to cover this profitability thing. Also, I know precious little about gas chambers anyway, there just isn’t much demand for the things anyway, and I only empty the trash here for $4.11 an hour anyway. What could I do anyway?” I hung my head in shame and noticed that several small bunnies had been inexplicably flattened against the floor.

“You are slime, you malodorous pile of dead fish flesh. Are you suckgestink, that I, a Hillary Clinton supporter, know nothink of how to motivate people und develop self-eshteem in my clod employees?”

“No, no,” I replied, “I think you’re one of the greatest, most caring, loving, and understanding bosses I’ve ever had (I’m not kidding here, kids).” I then fell to my knees, a work requirement, I’m told, information I got from a hunch-backed, scar-faced, Martin Sheen look-alike named Slash who works down in Human Resources when I asked him why the Boss would have pistol-whipped me one day for no apparent reason–I hadn’t dropped to my knees when he passed me on the way out of church last Sunday.

“Thank you for your obeisance, Ratchethead,” the good Doktor screamed as he tipped me over and rolled me like a cigar out of his personal cocoon into the work area. He slammed his door loudly to the high-pitched squeal of rusted hinges, and I heard the tumblers on his deadbolt slam home. I lay quietly for a few minutes and then rolled over towards the door to get up. A single, malice-yellowed eye peered at me from the crack between the threshold and the bottom of the door.

I stood up shivering and heard the Boss hiss behind the door, referring to me as a “seven-fold son of sophistry” who would do well to learn to keep his helpful suggestions to himself. At any rate, I was pleased to find myself back in the safe confines of the work area with very few bruises to show for my latest experience with the Lee Iacocca of the gas chamber industry.

My work-place is a lovely area reminiscent of downtown Chernobyl the night of the melt-down–a large dark building with Big Joe’s office set dead in the middle of what appeared at first glance to be the holding pen for trouble-makers at Dachau. I could just make out through the darkness and smoke that two old women responsible for picking up cigarette butts around the Boss’s door were heating a couple of tiny new potatoes stuck on the end of a rusty coat hanger. Hovering over their small fire made of very short pencils, toothpicks, stray pieces of dirty cardboard, and wadded up pieces of toilet tissue, they pulled their old burlap shawls low over their eyes. As I walked away, I heard one of them remark loudly to the other that I would never amount to anything in this company since I tended to walk up-right on two legs.

This really got my goat, ducks, and pigs. I slunk around the corner meaning to leave the area, but I was suddenly overcome with an extreme feeling of resentment since it occurred to me that the two old women are paid much more than I. With murder in my heart, I picked up an old Coke bottle and raised it over my head ready to sling it around the corner at the old women. My violent movement scattered a flock of starlings that nest in the rafters, causing me to look up. Dried guano, disturbed from its resting place on the exposed, drooping support members stretching across the width of the building, rained down on me forcing me to drop the bottle and hunch over to protect my eyes.

When I thought it prudent to look up again, my eyes inadvertently fell upon a dirty poster on the wall that had heretofore been covered up by a large picture of our beloved Dr. Mengele. The Boss’s picture had fallen onto the floor face up. You could barely make out the words that framed his face: on the top it said “Big Joe is Watching You” and at the bottom “Get to Work, You.”

Returning my attention to the poster remaining on the wall, I attempted to discern its meaning. It said, “Confidence is the Coal that Fires the Engine of Success.” It sported a picture of a perky blonde in a bikini waving from inside one of our early model chambers. Goofy, but I deemed this a good omen as I retired to the spacious employee lounge to discuss this concept with my fellows.

Conficdence is the Coal that Fires the Engine of Success

Standing on a dirty commode seat and hunched down to make it appear that there was no one in the one empty stall in the single rest room provided the employees, I whispered into the next stall, “Hey, Lyle. What the hell is Confidence?”

Lyle, his feet likewise hidden from view, began to answer, “Confidence is the Coal that…,” but hushed up when we heard the door slammed open against the wall. I could feel the Boss’s eyes sweep the bottom of the stalls, looking for shirkers.

After three minutes of silence, when Big Joe had crept back to his office to continue to entertain himself by scaring gerbils with a length of two inch PVC water pipe, Lyle continued “…Fires the Engine of Success,” exhaling loudly as if he had been holding his breath for a long time.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I hissed. “I know that much. I can read posters. too.”

Lyle, sensing that a simple hackneyed phrase would not satisfy my incisive, determined intellect, responded with another: “To laugh often and much…”

“Lyle.” I cut him off. “You make me so mad I could stomp bunnies.”

“Hey, that’s a neat quote; can I use it?” Lyle asked.

I looked down at a small hole that made our two stalls one and noticed that Lyle was trying to poke me through it with a yard stick. Snapping the end of the ruler off with an exaggerated judo chop, I exited the stall deciding that trying to get information out of Lyle on this particular subject was about as effective as attempting to get Tiffany cuff links from The Cable Guy. I couldn’t wait for this happy night to end. My curiosity was at a high pitch, however, regarding this confidence thing, and I was determined to think it through.


Returning at day-break to my home, I was greeted by my kitties, Frisky and Rosebud. Now here were two up-beat characters that might afford me some insight into this confidence thing. I started to scratch Frisky under the neck and felt something hard and pointed. Pulling her fur back, I noticed that she had on a necklace made of Robin’s beaks. Dropping her in disgust, I turned my affections to Rosebud only to notice that she had a squirrel’s skull impaled on a small pike which she held up for my approval.

Recoiling in horror, I realized that the kitties were more attuned to Dr. Joe’s point of view. But they seemed happy. In fact, they seemed to exude what I thought confidence was all about.

“What is confidence? What is self-esteem?” I mused aloud to no one in particular.

Rosebud rolled over and began pawing open her shrew-skin kit bag that I had not noticed before. After a few seconds, she had deftly removed a small, dog-eared manuscript that she pushed in my direction. On the cover sheet a pink 3M Post-it note was attached with a message addressed to Rosebud from Tony Robbins asking her to read the manuscript and get back to him with any suggestions.

Paging through the manuscript, I saw several suggestions written in the margins in Rosebud’s unmistakable scrawl. On the page that describes Tony’s new technology for obtaining success by converting bad habits (i.e., non-money making behaviors) to good habits (i.e., money making behaviors) Rosebud had written in big cat-block letters: “Confidence is the Coal that Fires the Engine of Success.”


On my way to LA, BRKV (Before Rodney King Verdict), via CattleCar Airways, on a mission loosely associated with my compensation package, it rained in LA (sprinkled, really). Consequently, the LAX Airport authorities closed two runways due to damp pavement and I was stuck in Phoenix for four hours waiting for someone to daub up the puddles.

Finally in LA, I took the Santa Monica Freeway to the Hollywood Freeway to the Bat-Out-Of-Hell Freeway. Exiting onto Beechwood Drive, I drove into old Hollywoodland to visit my brother, the one who makes english language television programs on American music for the Japanese. The programs are about the various types of music found in various U.S. cities, and when he finishes one, he ships them off to those sneaky Japs who put Japanese sub-titles on the films and then show them all over Japan between those crazy Japanese TV shows that have two smiling commentators who talk for a while and hold their elbow and their chin to observe young Japanese women walking by in various states of undress.

I could tell that I was in Hollywood because whenever I looked one way or the other, my eyes fell on either a car worth more than $50,000 or a collection of seeming lunatics. Stopped at a light at Hollywood and Vine, I spied a greasy looking guy at a bus stop jumping up and down and bouncing around flailing his arms as if he were fighting shadow ninja in a cheap Chinese Kung Fu film. Two glam punks with fuchsia hair coifed to appear butthole-like and wearing matching black leather motorcycle jackets with chrome chains, studs, rings, and buttons along with electric blue jams were totally ignoring him. I figured to myself that this greasy guy looked like he knew something about self-esteem.

“Hey, Pal. What’s the word on self-esteem?” I hollered out to him.

The greasy guy stopped practicing his Vulcan Death Grip on Casper the Ghost and the really ugly glam punk, the female one, looked up from the screenplay she was working on. Both sang out in unison, “Confidence is the coal that…” I gunned my Avis V-8 Chevy outa-there.


I flew up to Frisco the next day and drove down to Palo Alto to visit those nutty people at Stanford University who buy our software product. After a day of talking a lot, we retired to a roof top above the Hoover Pavilion to observe the weather and partake of California wines and Girl Scout cookies to wind down.

Intelligent looking students in athletic shorts and sensible shoes were rushing around everywhere, rushing, not necessarily because they have anything really important to do but rather because everything on campus is so far apart. No two buildings are any closer to each other than a hundred yards; the place is huge, dotted with palm and eucalyptus trees, and much spread out.

Interspersed among these well adjusted students was the occasional sullen rebel, dressed totally in black, hair died black, and sporting a perpetually pissed-off expression on their face. Fortunately for the rest of society, these kids worry for us over acid rain, nuclear power, snail darters, global warming, and ineffectual acne medicine freeing up the rest of us to worry about the really important issues. Watching the glorious California sunshine highlighting the wall of clouds pouring over the Santa Cruz Mountains like some mystical waterfall of the Gods, we discussed the usual heady subjects covered by the highly intelligent: the weather, the declining quality of Girl Scout cookies, the best California wines under four dollars, bad art, and girls (out of earshot of the girls who are talking about boys out of earshot of the boys). Self-esteem, confidence, personal worth, stock options, Hillary Clinton, and cookie recipes were never mentioned.

Clouds rolling over the Santa Cruz Mountains

Clouds rolling over the Santa Cruz Mountains


Hanging with the Buff Bunnies down at the free weight pit over in Venice, attempting to bench press my weight, I turned my head and asked Buffy and Turquoise through clenched teeth to pull the barbell off of my chest where it had rested for three long minutes. Turquoise, a six-foot tall blond investment banker with a figure that was a cross between a Barbi Doll and a female Arnold, told Buffy to handle it. Buffy, a startlingly beautiful hard-body brunette who was studying space vehicle re-entry physics at CalTech, dropped her ninety-five pound curling bar in the middle of her sixth set of twenty-five reps to rush over and save me. She was dressed in one of those dental floss bikinis and her highly bronzed muscles rippled in the sun as she closed the twenty yard distance between us.

Daintily lifting the two-hundred pound bar off of my chest with her left hand, she remarked in her perky, lilting way that I had grown to love, “Hey! You’re rilly, rilly cute. I’m just wild about somewhat over-weight forty year-olds that smell of minoxidil and Chanel Pour Monsieur; but I rilly get turned on if it’s Old Spice.”

I responded with a hurt look. Turquoise was looking at me smiling. She winked.

“Don’t get the wrong idea,” Buffy said. “I rilly mean it. Guys like you are all the rage these days with me and my friends. We’re sick of those self-absorbed youth of America.”

“Huh?” I responded.

“No, I mean it. Turquoise and I are nuts for guys like you. You’ve got it all: wisdom, objectivity, a passion for life, positive cash-flow, a cute little paunch. What more could a girl ask for? By the way, are you married?”

“Listen, I’m married–happily married for the last twenty years.”

“See,” Buffy gushed.” You guys are great, even in the long-run. What would it take to convince your wife to dump you? How much?”

“You don’t understand. She sees me as a significant asset. My net present value to her is very high.”

“I’ve never understood net present value. I prefer ROI as a measure of potential value. By the way, have you ever calculated the standard deviation of the mean of disposable income for the average man between the ages of thirty-five and…”

“Hey, let’s skip this part. Look, you seem to have a very high level of self-esteem and confidence. How did you get that attitude?”

Buffy cocked her head slightly to the left and looked confused. “Why do you ask?” Buffy queried me. “You look like a guy that knows what’s what.”

“Well, frankly this self-esteem thing has always eluded me. I’ve always felt a little behind everyone else. You and Turquoise, on the other hand, seem to have a supreme level of confidence. How did you get it?”

“The hard way,” she answered. “When I was a kid, I was very shy and unsure of myself. But in the fourth grade, when I was reading Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’, I had an epiphany. Adam, waxing eloquent on the subject of Eve, exclaims to the Angel Raphael that ‘Oft-times nothing profits more/ Than self-esteem, grounded on just and right/ Well manag’d.’ Though self-worth was a bit off the subject–Raphael went on to excoriate Adam for a too heavy reliance on Eve’s capabilities rather than depending on his own good judgement–reading what Adam said showed me that in my heart of hearts I had a poor self-image and this point of view was killing my creativity and motivation. Furthermore, a good self image was not the product of self-help tapes or emotionally pumping yourself up by repeating over and over again that ‘You are a great person… You are a great person… Everyone loves you….’ Rather, achievement of self-esteem was a bi-product of honest effort and intelligent choices, preparedness for the job laid out before me, right action from a position of knowledge and responsibility, and a sense of satisfaction in a job well done. In fact, what I finally got a good purchase on was that self-esteem doesn’t guarantee success at all. While it does tend to allow you to build upon it somewhat, self-esteem is really the icing, not the cake. Anyway, are you free tonight?”

Buff Bunny at Venice Beach

Average Buff Bunny at Venice Beach

Slack-jawed, I was very confused at this point. I couldn’t for the life of me understand how a buff bunny could turn out to have so much more depth than my sophisticated self. I felt worse than ever, and so I didn’t pursue the discussion any further. I needed time to mull over what Buffy had told me. It seemed like it had a seed of truth in it.

Heading back to Hollywood via Venice Boulevard, I-10, and the Santa Monica Freeway. I was nearly run off the road by a twenty-something young woman in a beat-up Toyota who was more interested in getting her hash pipe started than keeping an eye on the traffic. Pulling over out of her way, I noticed one of those wondrous LA light signs that tell us what we need to hear like what happened to the guy in LA Story. This big sign hovering over to the right of the freeway was flashing me the message “You are a Worthwhile Person… You are a Worthwhile Person….” Getting out of the car for a closer look, I figured that this god-like creature would tell me what’s what regarding confidence and self-esteem. Standing on the side of the road waiting for my own special message, the sign flashed again, “You are a Worthwhile Person… You are a Worthwhile Person… You are a Worthwhile Person… Buy a Bill Hinkley Ford Taurus Today….”


Back in Hollywood on Saturday, I went to Hugo’s for breakfast with my brother Marty and his little genius boy Zach. I bought Zach his first Mad Magazine and told him to keep it hidden under his bed knowing that his parents would not approve. After a delicious plate of blueberry pancakes, we hopped back in my brother’s Volvo to buzz over to UCLA to see my nephew. On the way out of Hugo’s parking lot, I was rubber-necking, as usual, and noticed Terri Garr leaning on an LA Times paper box scratching her ankle. I really didn’t realize who she was at first, but I was acting cool behind my Wayfarers and she noticed me. Her gaze lingered on me a bit too long.

Mad Magazine #311

I turned and asked Marty if I should ask her if she knows anything about this esteem biz only to be berated for the next ten minutes for ever suggesting that I should talk to a star, even one who’s put on a few pounds, has on no makeup, wears a dress that looks like it was bought at K-Mart, undresses middle-aged men with her eyes, and claws at her ankles like she’s got chiggers, bad. It turns out that they have lives, too, and hate being noticed, according to Marty. That’s why they dress like they’re up-scale bag ladies these days–kind of a rebellion against what Dolly Parton has brought to Hollywood, i.e., makeup, x-ray levels of slender, Rodeo Drive haute couture, reduction mamoplasties, regular baths, country music, and wigs. Now Dolly has got this confidence thing under control, but I never could find her to get the real skinny.


Flying back on Sunday, I opened CattleCar Airways’ in-flight magazine The Sardine, and started flipping through the pages. My eyes inadvertently fell upon an article written by a business professional other than Harvey MacKay or that other dweeb Tom Peters. Utterly surprised that I wasn’t going to be treated to twelve pages of numbing, utter crap, I quickly devoured the article. I can’t even remember the guy’s name, but he had actually written a self-esteem story that didn’t suggest I jump up and down naked on a dead man’s grave while chanting ancient incantations and swatting myself across the butt with the right-front leg bone of a cow. Indeed, his article was telling me the same sort of things that Buffy told me, only I could understand it.

He said that all that crap about walking on burning coals, chanting motivational mantras, and the like was useless. What really worked was setting realistic goals and achieving them, one step at a time. Success, it seems, is achieved in the doing not in the wishing.

By the end of the article I had slipped into a trance. I began to meditate on man, woman, life, death, leisure, work, love, hate, infinity. I fell half asleep and a few minutes later seemed to awaken.

Looking out of the window of my 737 at thirty-two thousand feet, I had a vision. Looking up into huge and bright cumulonimbus clouds, I saw the dark blue of the sky open up and viewed a long line of cats, bunnies, blacks, whites, indians, poor folks, dogs, glam punks, script writers, lunatics, buff bunnies, and a host of AT&T customer service representatives all marching and singing up a long stairway into the open arms of St. Peter. Each had a look of supreme confidence on their faces, a look of satisfaction, of a job well done.

Escalator to Heaven

I knew immediately that each of them had renounced all efforts to increase self-esteem and confidence via Tony Robbins, fundamentalist positive confession, all of the two thousand motivational self-help books printed between 1987 and 1990, Leo Buscaglia, and the Institute for Self Actualization. They had all instead achieved what they had set out to do by setting out to do something that had intrinsic value to the individual. Many had achieved a specific level of athletic skill, had acquired and mastered a difficult subject material, had caught fifty birds in a week, had set obtainable goals with regard to their business or personal lives, had learned to balance a check book, or had overcome some disability by sheer will power and guts. They had all attained what they had set out for themselves, not by emotional chicanery, but rather by defining what they wanted to achieve and then setting out a path that would take them there one goal at a time. Self-esteem and confidence, for these individuals, were the results of their efforts, not the end. Confidence doesn’t drive success, preparedness does. Confidence is the result not the road.


Reservoir Progs

Posted in Big Government, General Discussion, Humor with tags , on May 5, 2010 by McKinley Pitts

The People’s Cube: Tea Party Hate to Blame for Times Square Bomber!

Posted in General Discussion, Humor, Tea Party, Terror, The Long War with tags , , , on May 5, 2010 by McKinley Pitts

Go HERE to one of the world’s great websites to read about how the Times Square bomber was just a victim of Tea Party hate.

Recent Footage Directly From the Obama West Wing

Posted in Big Government, Humor with tags , , on May 5, 2010 by McKinley Pitts

Go HERE for an insider’s revealing footage direct from the West Wing of the White House.

Harry Reid Thinks Daniel Patrick Moynihan is Alive and in the Senate!!!

Posted in Humor with tags on October 9, 2009 by McKinley Pitts

This is sort of hard to believe but listen closely and at about 35 seconds into the video, Reid mentions Senator Moynihan. What’s really stunning, however, is that Reid takes the time to tell us that Moynihan is CURRENTLY IN THE SENATE and that Moynihan is the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee!!! He is referring to the very famous Daniel Patrick Moynihan who left the Senate in 2001 and died in 2003! And this is the Majority Leader of the US Senate talking. I now sort of feel sorry for Reid, oddly enough.

[NOTE: Video has been removed.  Don’t know the story but I bet Harry has been making some threats.]

How Cool Is This?

Posted in Deficit, Humor, It's The Economy Stupid!, Obama, Politics with tags , , , on August 30, 2009 by McKinley Pitts

Making fun of the Obama administration is too easy these days…

There just is no sport in it any more.  Kind of like hunting dairy cows in a feed lot with a rifle and scope.

Roofing A House

Posted in Humor, Personal Remembrances with tags , , on March 6, 2009 by McKinley Pitts

(Originally penned 2/20/1985)

I remember my grandfather. He was loads of fun at times, but he spent a lot of time hinting that I needed to do various things around the house–his house in the silk-stocking neighborhood of Belle Meade located in Nashville, Tennessee, that is. I lived just up the street with my family, so I was there quite a bit checking on him, my grandmother, and my mother. They all lived there, and I felt kind of responsible for them.

One day I went up to see Grandad (we pronounced it Grindead). He was upstairs, and when he saw me he blinked through his thick bifocals, scratched his tuft of snow-white hair, tucked a hand in between his profuse belly and his braces, and said with his central south, ‘Aw, shucks!’ drawl, “Ya know, the roof is leaking.” I knew what that meant and doubted that I should offer anything, but my brain had not hardened adequately at that point in my life. I weakly suggested that maybe I could do it. Grandad wasn’t the kind of person to ever discourage his grandchildren from attempting any kind of endeavor, no matter how dangerous it might have been, so he gave me the name of a lumber yard where he had an account and suggested I try it.

Of course, he wasn’t about to help, being seventy-six or so, diabetic, and generally adverse toward any thing that might make him sweat. So I set about to get the job done, regardless of my apprehensions, by getting this equally soft-headed friend of mine named Richard to help. I knew that at that time Richard was hankering to learn the manly skills of construction, so it was not hard to talk him into helping. The money I offered him wasn’t so bad either. I also offered money to my next-door neighbor’s son, Jim, to help, and he agreed. Once the materials were delivered, we were ready to go.

Remarkably, Richard and Jim showed up on the appointed day. We figured that we should do the garage first to learn on, and also as a trial to see if we could do it. Lingering deep down inside was the doubt that we wouldn’t succeed, but outwardly I remained optimistic. At that point Grandad came out onto the backporch to supervise and casually mentioned that the old roofs had to come off, since there were three separate layers on the house and garage, the maximum allowed by code.

“No problem, Grandad.” I chirped. “We can handle it.”

We climbed up a ladder onto the roof of the garage and started to pull the old roof off with hammers and pry bars. The garage was only one story, and the pitch of the roof was only about 30 degrees, but the temperature was about 90 degrees and climbing. Also, at one corner of the garage, Jim’s parents kept a pen of chow chows, enormous, slavering, bear-like dogs of Chinese origin, that displayed the unnerving habit of staring at us quietly and hungrily. Like Chinese Tong killers, they would stand off from the garage, waiting with expressionless faces. When one of us slipped a bit on the roof, the chows would perk up and move forward slightly, opening their mouths to show blue tongues and sharp teeth. Since it was only a corner of the garage roof that hung over the chow pit, we weren’t too worried. We let Jim do that part of the roof, figuring that even if he did fall, they were his dogs, and they probably wouldn’t eat him.

The temperature continued to rise. Around eleven o’clock it began to dawn on me that August in Tennessee was a bad time to roof a doghouse, much less a garage and a house. I climbed down from the roof saying that I had to repair some stucco inside the garage. The stucco had been busted up pretty badly–my grandfather had done it a while back when he stopped his Lincoln in front of the garage, forgot to cut it off, forgot to take it out of gear, forgot to put the brake on, and then got out. He had been lucky; the car hadn’t run over him, and I was kind of glad he had done it, since it was now giving me an excuse to get out of the sun. Richard and Jim bought that story without a lot of grumbling, so I started the stucco repair inside the garage.

About an hour later, Richard poured off the roof looking as if he had just spent a month crossing the Gobi desert on foot. Muttering something about how next job he was going to be stucco-man, he stumbled over to some shade and collapsed on his face in the dirt. Grandad, still on the porch, stared at him a while, then disappeared into the house. He came back directly, called me up to the porch, handed me a brand-new outdoor thermometer still in the package (it read 96 degrees and it had been in the house), and quietly remarked with deep sincerity, “Ya know, no one in their right mind would roof on a day like this.” I didn’t say a word; I just took the thermometer out to Richard and showed it to him. He put his head in his hands and shook convulsively for two or three minutes. He got up a little while later and seemed to be okay.

Finishing the garage the next day wasn’t so bad since the temperature had plummeted to around 92 degrees. We spent the first part of the day hauling the old roofing to the dump, from which we brought back almost as much as we had taken: old books, pieces of wood that we might find useful one day, half of a slide, and other garbage that we thought valuable. We carefully stored it in the garage. The second half of the day we spent roofing the garage.

We first nailed the roofing felt to the roof, then started to lay the shingles. Row upon row, we were rapidly covering the garage with a roof. The chows seemed less interested in us, and things were going along without hitch, until my mother started up a fight in the house with my grandmother.

Now I had grown up with their fights and was used to them, but this fight was special. My mother, if she thought there were strangers around, could, according to my grandmother, make Jesus Christ curse. And I half believed it that day. It started somewhat quietly at first, with only some loud talking. We couldn’t see anyone in or around the house, but the noise got louder and louder like the rising wind of a coming hurricane. The loud talking grew to screams and yells, and eventually, amid some of the most creative curse-words ever screeched, you could hear doors slamming, people running up and down stairs, pots and pans crashing, Grandad hollering “SHUT UP! SHUT UP!”, and the sound of my grandmother hitting something solid with a broom. Jim was used to all this, as he had grown up next door, but I was a bit worried about what Richard was thinking. Embarrassed, I blandly suggested to him that my mother was explaining nuclear physics to my grandparents and that she lectured this way all the time. Finally, there was a sudden silence, and a few seconds later my mother burst from the back door. Damning my grandmother and all her family to hell, she hopped into her car and shot out of the drive, not to be seen again till long after dark.

Things calmed down after that, but I began to have suspicions about my ability to roof. The heat, the work, the chows, and the screams of the people in the house began to congeal in my mind, along with a vague premonition of doom, into a suspicion that perhaps we had taken on too much. I wisely kept this to myself, though. The garage was Thunderhead Mountain; the house turned out to be Nanga Parbat, south face. From atop the garage, the house didn’t look so tough. The garage was easy, and we had finished it. We could, we felt, handle the house. But then we climbed up there.

The roof could not have been less than 45 degrees. Richard found out, suddenly, that he was afraid of heights. I was still determined and evidently had sun stroke, because I boasted to Richard, “We can do it.” In order to make Richard feel better about his fear of heights, which he tastelessly displayed by roping himself to the top of the roof, I roped myself to the top of the roof. I could tell he appreciated it, so we began to tear off the old roof with shovels and pitchforks. It was my idea to use such tools and it worked quite well. Since the roof was so steep, we would just dig under the roof, loosen it, and roll it over upon itself, after which only a slight shove would cause the rolled up roofing to peel off like a rock slide. At times, large sections of the roof would give way and slide to the ground with a roar. When this happened, it generally scared the wits out of us since we were usually working on, and were supported by that portion of the roof that gave way. But even so, I was beginning to feel positive again, and we finished up the day having removed all of the back roof.

The next day, storm clouds rolled in. Frantically, we worked to get the felt nailed on, which would at least shed most of the impending water. Thunder began to peal in the distance, and the wind began to rise. Then there was a huge crack of lightning close by, and I heard this scuffling sound behind me where Richard was. When I turned around, he was gone.

I called out “Richard?” To my relief, he answered, from inside the garage, that he was okay, and that he was busy removing all metal objects from his person. I kept at the roof, however, as I was thinking about the possibility of the house as my inheritance. I prayed fervently that it would not rain, and it seemed to work. The wind died down, the thunder trailed off, and the lightning stopped. I thanked God and kept nailing. Richard kept cowering in the garage.

Then–KABOOOOM!!–a huge, completely unexpected, terrific clap of thunder disturbed the idyllic vapours right over my head. Richard said later that I threw the hammer and was in the garage before it hit the ground, but I think that’s a bit exaggerated. However, it was at this point that I began to have suspicions about my ability to roof, and if there were any doubts, the skies opened to wash them away. The wind picked up again, and what little felt had been nailed down began to blow away.

I slowly walked into the house to explain to Grandad what had happened. I found him standing in his attic closet where he kept all those special belongings that old people collect over the years and hold dear, watching a cascade of water stream through the roof and pour over his memories. I left quietly, realizing that I didn’t need to say a word.

Next day, I called Grandad on the phone rather than visit (just to be safe), to tell him that maybe he ought to hire a roofing man to come finish the job. The day after that, five or six guys showed up to finish the job. I came by to see how things were going and found several of them lying in the front yard pouring water over their bodies. The outdoor thermometer read 98 degrees. I told them this and quietly remarked with deep sincerity, “Ya know, no one in their right mind would roof on a day like this.”