Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My Life: RIP Uncle Ballbat

It must be something in the water.  Just when everything seems to be running along smoothly and my cigarette boat is headed for port with a lucrative cargo - Wham!  The howler monkey at the helm tears out the bottom on a derelict that everyone knew was there, but which obstacle that very same everyone had forgotten about.

I had two uncles; Uncle Sardonicus, who I have written about in the past, and a second maternal uncle, Uncle Ballbat, who up until recently lived out in Colorado with his wife, Aunt Quakerlife.  Uncle Ballbat passed away last Friday.  He was a good man and I saw him a whole lot less than I'd have liked, but Denver, Colorado is 1,200 miles West and one mile up, and that tends to make a difference.  Added to that is Uncle Ballbat's health, which precluded any extended travel.  Of course now that he's gone I wish I'd made the effort to spend a little more time in Colorado.

The funeral and services will be held in Colorado, so some of the family will be traveling.  In a flurry of contradictory orders from a few of my familial Elders and in the face of adversity, I skipped my afternoon bourbon and as a result my common sense departed in a snit.  Timing being everything in this world (except money) that's just exactly when Auntie Annie applied her size 13 to the posterior of Uncle Sardonicus and announced to all and sundry that they would be handling all travel arrangements.  It was only then that I began to wonder if Xanax, Percocet and bourbon would have any life threatening side effects on my mother's favorite son, and if so, how certain and how severe.
Imagine, if you will, a large crate of two dozen chickens resting in the back of a redneck pickup truck. The crate is constructed of two by fours scavenged from a long forgotten job site and covered in chicken wire affixed to the crate by metal staples.  The entire business is covered with a cheap blue plastic tarp of the kind you can buy in any K-Mart South of the Mason-Dixon line.  The tarp is holed here and there, and is held in place by lengths of bailing twine that do not seem to have a point of origin nor termination.  Atop the crate and separated from it by the thickness of the blue plastic tarp rests a large dog of uncertain heritage.  Normally the dog sleeps in the bed of the truck, but his usual position is denied him by the crate full of chickens.  It is early June, the sun is warm and a gentle spring breeze makes everyone want to go outside and just lie around, enjoying this Heaven sent respite from the Hell of the past winter.

Are you with me so far?  Good.

Eight blocks away is a construction site where a new home is going up.  The construction workers are building the frame and are all happy to be back to work outside in nice weather.  Working means a regular paycheck, which means that the truck might get paid off this summer, but more importantly it means that the wife will be a wife indeed and the supply of beer and groceries will remain steady and plentiful.  The foreman is a little young for his position, but he's a good sort and he's over by his pickup truck congratulating himself on having exactly the right number and length of two by fours needed to complete the house frame.  This means there's no emergency run to the lumber yard for one lousy two by four, during which time he's gone the workers will get to drinking beer instead of working and something will get busted or screwed up.  But that won't happen today, because this time his calculations are correct and he has just the right amount of material on the job site.  Surely the good life has arrived.

Sadly, everyone's happiness is short lived.

Marty Minacious, ten year old terror of central suburbia spots an unwatched two by four leaning next to a saw horse.  Although he has no clear idea of just how he'd put such an item to good use, the primal impulse to seize and wield any cudgel shaped implement is strong, and to feel an impulse is to act on it.  Quick as a wino scooping up a brand new bottle of Mad Dog 20/20, Marty snatches the two by four and high tails it down the street on his bicycle before the construction crew can arrest him.  Marty's fears of notice and subsequent capture are groundless.  The crew doesn't notice, and shortly after Marty's departure the foreman will spend thirty minutes vainly searching for the missing wood while the crew ambles around and pretends to help search.  After the foreman leaves to make a run to the lumber yard for one lousy two by four, Ron the Man gets a six pack out of his cooler and everyone throws back a cold one.  Then Ron pulls out the second six pack and Fred orders the pizza.

Marty rides happily down the street and around the first corner, checking twice for pursuit.  Finding none, he tries a "ride by" against a mailbox.  This doesn't work out as well as Marty would like, as the two by four is a bit big and heavy for this kind of work.  It's easy to smack a mailbox with it while riding past and the damage is satisfying, but Marty comes very close to spilling his bike on the blacktop and he's experienced enough to know that asphalt never forgets.  Then Marty sees the pickup truck with the big, blue covered crate in the bed and the sleeping dog on top.  Having more of an innate cunning than actual intelligence, Marty makes a few very quiet passes around the truck and ascertains that the large dog is tethered to the truck by a length of very stout chain that precludes Marty being chased down the street by an unfriendly Chopper.  Or Killer.  Or something.  So, seeing a natural opportunity for amusement, Marty quietly parks his bike, tippy-toes over to the rear of the pickup truck, gets a firm grip on the two by four and pounds the living snot out of the cage.

The chickens go ballistic, the dog wakes up and goes nuts and Marty dances away, teasing the dog from a safe distance.  Which makes the dog bark and the chickens go ballistic.  Then, just when things might settle down, Marty runs up and pounds the living snot out of the cage again.  Which makes the chickens go ballistic and the dog bark.

I am the neighborhood resident who works third shift and who sleeps days, and whose bedroom is adjacent to my dumb redneck brother-in-law's pickup truck that broke down this morning right after I told him that he had to get his fat, lazy, ignorant hillbilly butt up off my couch and go find a job.  He's been sleeping on my couch and sucking down my beer for three and a half weeks, and yesterday the neighborhood's newest entrepreneur decided that he'd get into the chicken and egg business, so now he's got a crate full of chickens in his truck.  He was planning to move his chickens into my back yard and keep them next to the pool, but I was too quick for him.  So the crate's on the truck, said crate being guarded by Moondoggie, his coon hound.  Anyway, I tossed him out, so Brother-in-law drove my wife to work this morning and then borrowed her car to go get his cousin Chigger, who's phone has been turned off again but who is a mechanic with his own tools and who can presumably fix the truck.  What I don't know is that since my wife's car was low on gas, and since brother-in-law doesn't have any money (natch, right?), he's convinced her that it's okay to take my car.  My arrest-me-red Ford Mustang Cobra, which has a full tank of premium fuel, a convertible top and a Paxton supercharger.

Good, huh?  Can't you just feel the love?

I write this as an illustration of what happens when Uncle Sardonicus is supposedly left to his own devices to arrange airfare, hotel reservations and car rental over the Internet.  Auntie Annie is a sort of self-appointed administrative assistant, quality control inspector, union organizer, EPA representative and IRS agent all rolled into one convenient package.  Every time Sardonicus accomplishes something, his wife tells him what's wrong with it.  No, I'm not kidding.  No, I haven't been drinking.  That's really the way it works.  Information is disbursed to the family on a completely random basis.  I think some sort of random number routine has worked its way into the data as well, but I'm still holding out hope.

The funeral is Thursday.  I talked to Uncle Sardonicus late last night and when I couldn't find out what time our flight left, I was tempted to start drinking.  I didn't, which is very likely just another mistake I'll be making as we make our way to the wilds of the mile high city.  When I called Uncle Sardonicus this morning, he was complaining bitterly that the prices kept changing and that he couldn't cancel anything.  There doesn't seem to be a cancel feature on Expedia, or Days Inn or Hertz - or anything.  I tried an explanation.

"Look, these sites are designed to get you to spend money.  They don't want you to cancel anything, they want you to spend more."

"I don't give a [extended expletives and colorful descriptions unsuitable for women and children deleted] about what those [deleted] want, they ought to have a [deleted] cancel button somewhere!  Wait, maybe I found it..."

"Unc, I don't think so.  I don't really believe there is one."

"[deleted]!!! Those [deleted]!  Now I've got another reservation!"

I'm going to skip the rest of the phone call.  I don't know how many cars or rooms we've reserved, I only know that since he hasn't got hold of my credit card, I'm not held liable for any of it.  I do know that at one point "they" wanted my email address and now my spam filter is getting a work out.  "They" also wanted my date of birth, and before I could call a halt to any of this my dear old Mother gave it to Sardonicus, mainly because Mom doesn't have an iniquitous bone in her body and for the life of her, cannot understand why criminals steal things.

The thing that really bothers me is that I'm not 100% certain that we actually have a flight reservation.  I guess I'll find out when we get to Detroit Metro.

Uncle Ballbat would have handled this one easily.  Uncle Ballbat played on a bush league baseball team, and when little Mad Jack played some ball with Uncle Ballbat the difference between them that plays ball and them that really plays ball was so evident you wouldn't believe it.  Fathers and sons all over the neighborhood would play ball, and if some father threw you the ball you'd like as not have to run to catch it because, when you came right down to it, the fathers were all amateurs just like the kids.  Not Uncle Ballbat.  You could stick your glove out and Uncle would throw the ball up in a lazy arc and it would smack right into the pocket of your glove.  Every time.  If you got up to bat, Uncle could show you how to stand and hit the ball right out of the park with no effort at all.  Uncle Ballbat was one of those guys that was good, but wasn't quite good enough to make the professional league.  I don't think it bothered him; he was an engineer and made a good living at it.

I like baseball, and I really wish I'd spent more time with Uncle Ballbat.  But like I say, Colorado is a long way off and my own father wasn't keen on letting me off the farm all that often.


Older School said...

My sympathies and condolences on your loss. Sounds like you have your hands full. Bourbon is the answer to the question.

Momma Fargo said...

Sorry for your loss. I am with Older School...bourbon seems to bet he answer to the question.

Mad Jack said...

Thanks guys. The trip ended up being more expensive than it should have. At the same time, the family was very, very grateful to all of us for coming.