Saturday, February 25, 2012

Rapping-Tapping at My Chamber Roof

I can remember the dilemma of being a teenage boy in the sixties.  While I had an almost unlimited amount of time, I had neither a car nor a girlfriend.  So I got a job bagging groceries at a local grocery store.  Through hard work and perseverance, within a year I had been promoted to checker/stocker, made fifteen cents an hour over minimum wage, and got both a girlfriend and a car.  And then had no time to enjoy either.

That might be the story of most men’s lives.  We trade our allotted time for the money to better enjoy the time we no longer have.   Come to think about it, retirement is not that far away.  Once again, I will have more time than money.  Is that what they really mean by a second childhood?

Working at that grocery store taught me more than I learned in high school.  I have always enjoyed learning by doing.  (Even today, I have discovered that I have learned—and understood—more about history by teaching it than I ever did as a student.  If I had it to do over again, I would just skip that student phase and go straight to the faculty stage.)  I learned that if it was a hot day, bag the grapes on top and as you carried the groceries out to someone’s car, you could eat a few of the grapes.  I learned not to put groceries in the back seat of a car until someone was holding the damn dog—and still have the scars to remind me.

Mostly, however, I learned that I wanted a better job.  And the grocery store chain I worked for had a better job, if I could just find a way to be part of it.  The inventory crew—that’s the job I wanted.  They paid thirty-five cents an hour more than I was making as a checker.  (If that doesn’t sound like much, remember that you could buy a gallon of gas for thirty-five cents and the gas station attendant would put it in your car for you, check your oil, and give you a free glass.)  The problem was that the inventory crew worked the graveyard shift.

Four nights a week, Wednesday through Saturday, the inventory crew would be locked inside a grocery store after it closed at 9:00 PM.  By 6:00 AM, the entire store would be inventoried.  Every member of the crew worked 36 hours a week but got paid for 40 hours.  This was a great job, but I was still a junior in high school and the summer vacation did not start for two months.  Still, I wanted that job.  I wanted the money—I wanted that job.  I could sleep in July or sometime.

Somehow, I convinced both my boss and my parents to let me do the job. Sometimes, I could grab a few hours sleep after school and before work, or take a short nap before school started in the morning… but by Saturday morning, there was simply no denying it: by the time I got home I was bushed.  Luckily, I could sleep the whole day, then go to work that night fairly rested, and start the week—and the whole process--all over.

By May, the summer vacation was close.  And God knows I needed it.  Between the demands of my girlfriend, school, my girlfriend, and chores around the house—I was averaging about 4 hours of sleep a night.  And to get that much I had to regularly sleep through my English class.  Luckily, Texans have very little need for grammar.  (You can tell by reading my blog.)

One Saturday morning, I came home exhausted, climbed the stairs to my attic bedroom, stripped off my clothes down to my religious underwear (Holy! Holy! Hole-y!) and fell into bed unconscious.  I immediately slept the sleep that only comes to the very innocent or those with no conscience.  Like Republicans.

I didn’t get to sleep long.  My attic bedroom was directly beneath the cedar shake shingles that covered the entire house.  This being Texas in May, the shingles were covered with tiny little bugs.  The kind of bugs that woodpeckers love to eat.  I had probably been asleep for about an hour when that damn peckerwood woke me up.   TAP-TAP-TAP-TAP-TAP-TAP-TAP!  The damn bird was directly over my head.

Have you ever been trapped somewhere between being awake and being completely asleep?  It’s like your brain is coated with molasses or you have been reading Jane Austen while stoned.  I have no idea how many times that morning I stood on my bed, beat on the ceiling to scare off that woodpecker, only to have it come back five minutes later and start the entire process over again.


Finally, that damn bird woke me completely up.  I ran over to my closet and grabbed my .22 rifle, a loaded clip, and ran down the stairs screaming obscenities at the top of my lungs.  Down the stairs, across the living room hall, out the front door and into the front lawn.  I turned around and looked up… there was that damn woodpecker.

The rifle came up just as the bird lifted off the crown of the roof.  He was no more than six inches off the roof when I shot that son-of-a-bird brain.  His wings folded, and he fell down onto the roof line, bounced, and rolled down the back of the roof.  I immediately improvised a combination war and victory dance as I waved the rifle over my head and screamed my victory cry.

I don’t know how long I did this before I noticed my audience.  This was Saturday morning in May.  The neighbors were mowing their lawns.  At least they had been until a nearly naked teenager fired a gun and began screaming obscenities.  None of them had probably even seen the bird; God alone knows what they thought I was doing.

I quickly ran back inside the house, slammed the front door and leaned backwards on it.  It was at this point I was able to smile and nod my head towards the gathered ladies of my mother’s church group.  In my haste down the stairs, I hadn’t quite noticed them on my trip through the living room.  They were a little harder to ignore on my way back up the stairs.

Not only did my mother remind me of this story approximately twice a week for the rest of her life, but I think it was the main topic of conversation when I introduced my future wife to my mother.

No comments:

Post a Comment