Wrist Rocket

Perhaps the first time I ever saw a slingshot and how it was used was in an episode of the “Spanky and Our Gang” series. One of the kids carried a “Y” shaped, cut branch in his back pocket with a length of inner tubing tied to the two upper branches. Holding onto the bottom of the “Y,” he could put a pebble into the tubing and knock a fat man’s hat off twenty feet away. When we got a little older, the neighborhood kids and I all tried making these for ourselves. The first problem we encountered was the lack of proper hardwood trees. The branches from the local trees were either too sticky (pine), too flexible (willow), or too brittle (aspen). Then someone’s Dad showed his son how to use a coping saw – it’s like a hand-powered jigsaw – and we were able to cut scrap plywood into the proper shape. Old bicycle inner tubes were easy to find and cut up.

At this point we ran into the second obstacle. To get any distance, you have to pull back hard on the rubber. The harder you pull, the harder it is to keep the body of the slingshot perpendicular to your arm. At some point it tips back toward you until the chances of the pebble bouncing painfully off your hand instead of hitting the target become insurmountable.

So we put our slingshots away and began to concentrate on other wholesome fun like setting our model airplanes on fire or chasing Jeannie K, one of the neighborhood girls, down the street with a hypodermic-shaped stick, threatening to give her a shot.

Then one day Tommy N, from across the alley, showed us his newest acquisition. It was a slingshot, but what a slingshot it was. Made of a single piece of aluminum tubing that sinuously curved down through the grip, wrapped around your wrist, and came back up through the handle and attached to strong lengths of surgical rubber. It was called a Wrist Rocket because the padded loop around your wrist kept it sturdily vertical. This was not a toy, this was a weapon. A weapon that oozed danger and adventure and we all wanted one.

“Wow, where did you get that?”

“At the Bait and Tackle shop. It’s on the highway over on the West side. They’re a dollar seventy five.”

We followed him outside for a demonstration. With very little effort, he could shoot a pebble more than half a block away with remarkable accuracy. Enthralled, I went home and feverishly schemed ways to come up with the money. After three weeks of scrimping and saving, I had only accumulated seventy-five cents. I was no better at scrimping and saving then as I am now. But after scrounging under the cushions of the living room couch, I had enough to buy a dozen lemons and some sugar which I parlayed into a lemonade stand out by the street.

To this day, if I see a card table out next to the sidewalk with a pitcher on the table and a kid sitting on a stool behind it, I will always stop. The price for a lukewarm cup of lemonade may have gone up from a dime to a dollar, but the eager salesmanship is still well worth the time spent.

Near the end of the afternoon, the Ghicadis family, out for a walk, put me over the top. The next morning my friend George and I packed lunches in brown paper bags, got on our bikes, and headed West.

As we walked our bikes across the pedestrian bridge over the railroad yards, we saw a steam locomotive approaching and we stopped where it would pass underneath. At this time, many of these steam-powered engines had been retired in favor of the new diesels and by 1960 the transformation would be complete. But on that August day in 1956, we laughed and whooped as the smoke and steam billowed up around us.

We were back in our neighborhood late that afternoon. George had to go home to do his chores and I had to figure out where to hide my new Wrist Rocket where my mother wouldn’t find it. At some point Mom must have decided that if she were going to have to give birth to and raise four boys, they would all grow to manhood with use of both eyes. Any toy that could shoot a small or pointy projectile at enough speed to put someone’s eye out was absolutely forbidden. While my best friends Tommy N and Tommy D both had arsenals of BB guns, dart boards, and bows and arrows, I had to defend the vacant lot from the onrushing hordes of Chinese Commies with a squirt gun and a ping pong ball shooter.

Once the new slingshot had found a home under my chest of drawers and behind a row of old shoes, The next problem became what the hell to do with it. I could go rabbit hunting with Tommy D and his older brother.  My brother Lewis and I had gone on such a trip with the two of them armed with their BB guns. After an hour of not seeing anything to shoot at, they decided to shoot at us. Those BB’s are small, but they sure can sting. At least with my Wrist Rocket I could give a good accounting of myself.  But then there was that “shooting somebody’s eye out” thing.

A day or two later we realized that the Moores, who lived across the street, were growing ammunition for us. They had a decorative concrete and stucco fence around their property. Right up next to the fence they had planted three plum trees. For several weeks in the Spring, the trees were covered with beautiful  violet-colored flowers. Then the petals would drop, leaves would appear, and the trees would set about their pre-ordained task of making plums. Which never ripened. Because of Wyoming’s short growing season, when plums in warmer climates were turning sweet and juicy in the last weeks of August, the Moore’s plums were still small, green, and inedible. But, we discovered, they were just the right size for shooting at cars. With a Wrist Rocket and a well-aimed plum, a kid could make the rear door panel on a ’52 Nash Rambler ring like a Temple gong.

Soon there were four or five of the neighbor kids who had Wrist Rockets.  The technique was to fill your pockets with plums, have a round in the sling pouch ready to go, and hide behind something. When you heard a car approaching, you straightened up, took a quick shot, and jumped back into hiding. Almost invariably, when a car was hit the driver would slam on the brakes, jump out, yell curses and threats, and examine the car for damage. Seeing no culprits to chase, he would angrily get back in and drive away.

Sheridan Street, a fairly major East-West traffic artery in the Laramie Street System, ran right along the edge of our neighborhood. Every city block, at least in our end of town, had an alley running through it. Because of the vagaries of early city planning, between Sheridan Street and the parallel alley there was a long strip of land deemed too narrow to build on.  In those days there were no Weed Control Laws and by August every summer this strip was thickly covered with three foot high ragweed plants.

To allergy sufferers, a stand of ragweed like this was an awful health hazard. But to a group of 10 and 11 year-old boys with slingshots, it was perfect cover. A boy could pop up out of the weeds with his Wrist Rocket already drawn, shoot a plum at an oncoming car, scrunch back down out of sight, and listen for the hoped-for THUMP when the target was hit. The only drawback was that you had to lay low in the weeds for the next twenty minutes whispering quietly to each other, “Is he gone?” “Do you think he might come back?” and “That was my plum that hit, I think yours went over the trunk.”

So there we were on a sunny, Saturday afternoon. After successfully drumming a Ford station wagon and a furniture delivery van, we were waiting in the weeds for our next victim.

“Car coming from the left!” Tommy N hissed. “Get ready…” I gripped the plum in the leather sling and pulled it back part way. “Now!”

Five of us jerked upright out of the weeds, simultaneously pulling back on our slingshots. There in the street was a Laramie City Police car with two cops inside looking directly at us. We were frozen with fear as the cruiser slammed on the brakes and the passenger side cop thumbed a microphone.

“You kids come over here, now! and bring those slingshots with you!”

All five of us turned around and ran like rabbits.

If you pit two of Laramie’s finest, in a powerful squad car with its lights flashing against a crew of kids running through their own neighborhood, who do you think will win? We knew every back yard, every gate that would open, every fence you could jump, and every hiding place. The cops, on the other hand, were confined to driving up and down the streets and alleys hoping to flush one of us out. I spent the next forty-five minutes in a narrow gap between a fence and a garage behind a pile of used tires. Periodically I would catch a glimpse of the police car barreling down a street or idling down the nearby alley.

I buried my Wrist Rocket in a far corner of the foxhole we had dug in the vacant lot. A few days later, after the much-feared house-to-house  search never materialized, I dug it up and put it back under the chest of drawers in my bedroom. There it would gather dust. After Labor Day had passed, school started and we were on to other things like pick up football games in the park and rooting for the Dodgers to win the pennant and beat the Yankees again in the World Series.

Rotus Brossom and the White Truck

Sometime in March of 1963 (Spring for most of the country but the tail end of Winter in Laramie) the Old Man put a long-gestating plan into action.

A year before, wanting a powerful vehicle to pull his boat, he had bought a four-wheel-drive Chevy Suburban.  But he didn’t like it. I think the Old Man always pictured himself as a kind of James Bond type – classy, confident, and unruffled. Would James Bond hitch his sexy little runabout to a big, bulbous, bright yellow tugboat that his kids nicknamed “The Canary?”

In a small town, there is a business understanding, a quid pro quo,  especially among the professional people. The Builder who fixes the Lawyer’s roof is also the Lawyer’s client, The Plumber’s daughter is sent to have her tooth filled by the Dentist who previously hired the Plumber, and the Doctor (my Old Man) buys his power boat from a Salesman who happens to be one of his patients. This patient, in the office because his gall bladder is giving him trouble, tells the Old Man that he is branching out and will soon be selling cars from a relatively unknown Japanese manufacturer, Toyota. One of the vehicles in this new line is called the Land Cruiser.

When the Old Man drops by the sales room and sees  the pictures of the Land Cruiser, it looks a lot like the classic English Land Rover. Suddenly he pictures himself not as Sean Connery in a tuxedo, but as John Wayne in a bush hat roaring across the African veldt. The only remaining problem was how to get his wife’s approval.

“The ashtrays are barely full in the Canary and now you want to sell it and buy this new Japanese toy?” he could almost hear her asking.

Now he could, he knew, just go ahead and sign for it. This was, after all, back in the days long before Gloria Steinem ever set pen to paper. But if Mom didn’t agree and he did it anyway there were a myriad of ways she could, and would, make him pay afterward.  No, the solution was to get her on board first. And so he hatched his plan.

“Honey, I’ve been thinking,” he said one night. “What you really should have is a nice, easy-to-handle, four-wheel-drive vehicle so you can go out in the mountains and paint anything you like.”

She looked up at him with interest. The Pontiac station wagons she’d been driving for the last twelve years (bought not from a patient but from an old Army buddy) were really not suited for any road that was not paved. And she’d developed a strong desire to get out in the boonies and paint scenery that  few others had ever seen. She had even tried it once or twice in the Canary, but the beast was just too big and clumsy for her. After looking at the brochures and considering it, she said that she would love to have a Land Cruiser as her painting car. But with one stipulation – she wanted the car to be painted something other than plain old stock tan and she wanted to pick the new color.

Delighted at how well it all went, the Old Man agreed and ordered the car, making sure it would come with a sturdy hitch and large side mirrors “just in case” he wanted to pull the boat with it. When it was delivered, Mom had it taken to the local body shop where it was to be painted with the colors she had chosen. They kept it for a few extra days to make sure the paint was dry. During that time and unbeknownst to the Old Man, a hired sign painter came in to do some special work on it.

One sunny day in late April, the Old man finished his rounds at the hospital and headed home. And there, parked in the driveway, was a brand new Toyota Land Cruiser sporting a two-tone paint job. The roof, the sides and the rear of the cab showed a warm, cream color. The rest of the car was pink. A bright, bilious, Pepto-Bismol pink. Even the wheels were pink. Across the back of the cab was lettered, in an Oriental-style script, “ROTUS BROSSOM.”

The Old Man just stood there slitty-eyed and staring at it. What he really wanted to do was to lose his temper, stomp into the house, and raise hell about it. But to do so would be admitting who the car had actually been purchased for. He had been well and truly snookered. All he could do was say, “a little loud, isn’t it?” and bury his head in the evening paper.

The Old Man tried to tow the boat out to Lake Hattie with the Rotus Brossom, but the giggles, winks, and stares were more than he could handle and he began to look for some other way to get his boat out to the water. My Mother offered an olive branch when she said that she’d fallen in love with the little Land Cruiser and it would be fine with her if he sold the Pontiac station wagon and used the money to buy some kind of a truck.

What the Old Man found was a 1949 Chevy pickup that he bought for a song because it had a blown engine. He then bought a working engine that came from a wrecked truck, and he and my older brother Chuck spent the next month of evenings and weekends swapping one engine for the other. And by God, it worked! I was there when the Old Man turned the key on, pressed the starter button, the engine turned over a few times, and then caught. Much cheering ensued. It seemed like the old family malady – the Pelton’s Something for Nothing Disease – had finally been defeated

All the small things and minor touches, such as hooking up the gas gauge and the speedometer, were pushed to the back burner in favor of what the Old Man considered the essential next step – changing the color. As purchased, the original color – a faded green – was only visible on the parts of the truck that were somewhat protected. The roof, the front fenders, the hood and the bed had a lovely brownish-orange patina of rust.

The truck was parked on a large tarp in the driveway and the three older brothers – Chuck, Lewis, and I – spent our afternoons during the next week sanding and then masking off everything that was not going to be painted. On Saturday, with a borrowed spray rig, Chuck sprayed primer on the truck.  On Sunday, we were ready to paint. I say “we” even though my job was mostly to stand around and be ready to offer help if needed. Lewis was working in the garden in the back and Donald was mowing the side yard.

Chuck and the Old Man were having a hard time getting the white paint thinned to the right consistency for the sprayer. Finally, Chuck held up the spray gun, pulled the trigger, and the paint came sputtering out in fat globs that splattered and ran. The Old Man picked up a paint brush and spread the white enamel out into a large patch.

“After it dries, we’ll come back with the spray gun and fill in the brush marks,” he explained to me as Chuck was trying to clean out the tip of the gun with thinner.

Once more the sprayer was tried, once more lumps of white paint spattered across the truck, and once more the Old Man chased them with the brush.

“Tim,” the Old Man said, his jaw muscles flexing in frustration. “Run into the house and ask your mother for a paper clip.”

By the time I returned with the clip, they had taken the tip off the spray gun and were peering through the aperture. The Old Man unfolded the paper clip and used it like a miniature ramrod to clear some dried paint from the opening. Satisfied, he and Chuck reassembled the rig. Aiming at a fender, Chuck pulled the trigger and out came a fine mist of paint. We all grinned at each other as the primer-gray steel turned a pristine white.

Then the gun coughed, sputtered, and once again began belching heavy blobs of paint. There was a moment of silence, then the Old Man said through clenched teeth, “Tim, go get a paint brush from the rack in the garage. Chuck, keep spraying and we’ll spread it out as well as we can.”

Within a few minutes, the spray gun had become just the delivery system for the brushes. And the enamel, being somewhat self-leveling, didn’t look too bad if you stepped back a few feet. About that time Donald had finished mowing the large side yard and was looking forward to finishing the small yard next to the driveway so he could go watch cartoons. We were too busy to notice him or care what he was doing until he made his first pass all along the length of the driveway. Our mower was not fitted with a grass catcher.

A steady fountain of freshly-cut grass shot out of the mower and embedded itself in the fresh paint. One side of the truck was green and fuzzy from the headlight to the rear bumper. The Old Man’s cry of agony was palpable. Donald, hearing the shouting over the sound of the mower, stopped and looked back. Deciding that whatever it was had nothing to do with him, he turned back to his work.

The Old Man, like a condemned prisoner resigned to his fate, dipped his brush and began to entomb the grass clippings in the truck finish. Chuck and I shrugged our shoulders and followed suit.

The White Truck served us well most of the next few years and those times it didn’t were our own damned fault for not finishing those pesky details that had been relegated to “the back burner”.  For example, the time that Chuck, clinging in vain to the front fender, was dragged back down the launch ramp into the lake. The emergency brake handle he had set before jumping out wasn’t, in fact, connected to anything. Another time, the Old Man had bought a used camper to put on the back of the truck and he was driving down the highway to Seminoe Reservoir when a blur of motion off to the side caught his eye. He looked over in time to see the boat that was supposed to be hitched to the back of his truck skimming down the middle of the ditch. Had he bought and installed mirrors to see around the camper, he’d have seen the trailer come off the hitch long before the safety chains ground through on the asphalt.

One day when I was on leave from the Air Force, I drove North out of Laramie toward Rock River accompanied by two friends and a couple of six-packs of beer. Since the dashboard gauges had never been hooked up, we had no idea that there was a drop in oil pressure. At least, not until there was a loud “bang” and the engine died. We hitched a ride back to town and the White Truck was towed directly to the junkyard, never to run again.

Fort Squalor

In 1974 I moved to Jackson, Wyoming and I lived there for a couple of years.

Visitors sometimes think the name of the town is Jackson Hole, but that’s not true. The whole valley is Jackson Hole and the town that lies therein is Jackson. The valley is called a “hole” not because it isn’t a pleasant place to be – it is, in fact, quite the opposite – it’s called that because it looks like God ran three mountain ranges together into a big pile, then took his thumb and jabbed a deep pit into the middle of it. He added a lake and  some gorgeous scenery, then headed up to Yellowstone for some real fun.

French trappers, having been without the company of women for some time,  named the high rugged mountains that jut up out of the Western edge of the valley the “Grand Tetons”. Translated from the French, that means “The Large Breasts.”

I came to Jackson to teach Transcendental Meditation. But I had to make a living as well so I painted signs. I also carved wooden signs, built decks, repaired furniture, and pasted up advertising at the local newspaper. Because private land there is scarce, housing in Jackson is expensive and those of us on the lower end of the pay scale were always on the lookout for a cheap place to live.

Several miles North of Jackson on the highway to the National Park there was, at the time, a wide place in the road where someone had built a small resort. The place had gone bankrupt and was sold to a man who was trying to get it back up on its feet. As part of this rehabilitation effort, he needed signs. And I was hired to paint them.  As I worked there I noticed an abandoned building at the far end of the property.

“That’s the old gas station,” he said. “The tanks are rusted out, can’t be used to sell gas. May as well just level it.”

My friend Jim and I talked it over and then went to the owner with an offer. “If you’ll pay for materials and let us live there for free for a year, we’ll turn the second floor of that building into a two-bedroom living space you can rent out.” He agreed and we got to work.

We put in framing, wiring, insulation, a wood stove for heat, and sheetrock on most of the walls. At that point we went to him for more money and he told us that he wasn’t putting another dollar into the place and that he had started our year when we began working. It was now late October. We had until the middle of September, then it was move out or start paying rent.

Having nowhere else to go, we shrugged our shoulders and moved in. There was no running water so no kitchen or bathroom. We ate with friends in town, and got permission to use the Episcopal Church Community Room bathroom as long as we kept it clean. When winter set in, the place got very, very cold. The windows and doors were leaky and there was no insulation in the floor. If we stoked up the wood stove until it was practically glowing, it would keep  the air warm in a 10 foot circle around it for a few hours at best. Further out than that, you could see your breath float away on the chilly drafts that blew through the place. We scrounged up down sleeping bags and down comforters and hunkered down.

During that Winter, the place became known to all our friends as “Fort Squalor”. It also became known to the local small wildlife as a good place to pass the chilly months. We had mice. Lots of mice. When they realized that we weren’t going to do them any harm – Jim said, “Let’s just think of them as pets.” – they became bolder. We had an old couch next to the woodstove and if they weren’t running across our feet, they were coming out of their holes and scolding us.

Then one night in March, Jim was awakened from a deep sleep by an uncanny feeling that he was being watched. When he opened his eyes, there was a mouse about six inches from his nose, staring at him. Scared the hell out of Jim. From that moment he stopped being the “friend of small animals” and became “Jim the Hunter.” He bought several traps and baited them with Peanut Butter. Whenever we’d be sitting on the couch reading and hear a loud WHACK, Jim would pick up a Magic Marker, draw a cartoon of a mouse on the sheetrock wall, then put an X through it. Before long, the wall began to look like the side of a World War Two Ace’s fighter plane.

As I mentioned earlier, Fort Squalor was located next to the highway that runs from Jackson to Grand Teton National Park. On the other side of the road was, and still is, the National Elk Refuge. It consists of over 24,000 acres of flat valley floor where more than 7,000 elk come down out of the high country every year and Winter there. It was an amazing experience to come out onto our front porch on a crisp and clear morning to see several thousand of these magnificent animals foraging in the snow just across the road on the other side of the fence. In the Spring, as the snow melted, the elk moved back up into the mountains leaving behind an incredible amount of elk poop and a commensurate number of flies.

During the Spring in Northern Wyoming, temperatures in the daytime can be quite warm and pleasant. But at night they drop down to near-freezing. Any self-respecting fly, when the sun goes down, will look for a place to spend the night. Attracted by the heat and light coming from dear old Fort Squalor, they crossed the highway in great multitudes.

When we were remodeling the place, Jim and I put in a three foot tall and four foot wide picture window. Through it one could see across the National Elk Refuge to the high mountains of the Gros Ventre Range. It was a beautiful view, but not when the window was covered every morning by a heaving, buzzing mass of flies trying desperately to get back to the elk poop across the road.

We had two or three fly swatters hanging on a nail next to the window and we would set to work, sometimes with a swatter in each hand. Part of the effort was to kill the flies but not brutally smash them. We didn’t want to have to clean the window that often. It wasn’t long before an inscription in Magic Marker appeared on the sheetrock – “This must be a nice place to live. 10,000 flies can’t be wrong!”.

Jackson has four seasons – Tourist, Hunting, Skiing, and Mud. As the elk move back into the mountains, the runoff from the melting snow runs back downhill  and turns the valley into a loblolly. Hence the name. During May, as the mud was drying up and construction on the many tourist oriented facilities that are always going up was put in high gear, I was asked to provide interior signs for a new hotel that was about to open on the South edge of town. The problem they were dealing with was that when they were budgeting for the finishing touches, someone had overlooked the need for signs. “Restaurant that way,” “Health Club this way,” and “Saloon over there.” So I bartered with them. I agreed to cut my prices down to fit their tiny budget, and they agreed to let us eat in their restaurant for nothing and use their showers. The ground floor of Fort Squalor became my workshop. Sawdust, wood scraps, and empty paint cans piled up in the corner.

It was an idyllic summer for us in Jackson. The Tourists filled up the main streets and highways with RV’s, trailers, and fifth-wheel rigs while the locals used the back streets and roads in order to get around. There were fishing trips, parties, and floating down the Snake River in inflatable rafts. This was the summer that Boscamp came to visit and the summer of The Great Bottle Rocket War, both of which will, in the future, get stories of their own.

As Summer went on I decided I just couldn’t face another nine months in the icebox of a Jackson Hole Winter. Between the hotel work and some other signage projects I’d completed, I was able to put together enough of a portfolio to land a job at a sign company in Denver.  So near the end of August I loaded all my possessions into my old VW van, said goodbye to all my friends, and headed South.

Two weeks later,  Jim had found a place in town and was moving out as well. After he’d loaded a borrowed pickup with most of the rest of his things, he got to feeling bad about the pile of wood scraps in the corner. So he started a fire in the wood stove and stuffed in as many of the scraps as he could fit. After he’d unloaded the truck and was on his way back out to get the last few things, he noticed a column of black smoke boiling up into the sky from somewhere just ahead. When he came around the last bend he just pulled off the road, sat there, and stared. Fort Squalor was on fire. The Volunteer Fire Department was there with their pumper trucks but since there was nowhere to connect to water, they could only watch as the building burned to the ground.

After being used almost continuously the previous winter, the woodstove had filled the uninsulated chimney with a thick, creosote coating. All those wood scraps that Jim had pushed in there burned so fiercely that they set the inside of the chimney on fire, which in turn set the building on fire.

The “Resort” that Fort Squalor was once a part of is long gone. That land is now occupied by the National Museum of Wildlife Art.

The Tonsillectomy

In 1966 I had acquired a bass guitar, learned a few rudimentary bass patterns, and joined a little rock and roll group that was playing various gigs around Laramie, Wyoming. I’ll save the story of my life in the rock ‘n’ roll lane for another time, except to say this: my throat was not cooperating.  It seemed to be constantly sore, varying only in degree. It’s hard to sing the harmony part on “Mustang Sally” when your vocal cords are inflamed and your voice sounds like a raven cawing through a cheese grater.

I finally went to The Old Man and asked him to take a look. My Old Man had finished Medical School and his Internship in the late thirties and then served in the Army as a Doctor. After the war, he and my Mother moved their new family to Laramie where he hung out his shingle as a General Practitioner and Surgeon. I grew up the son of a small-town Doctor. So one Sunday Night, during a commercial break for the Ed Sullivan Show, holding a spoon as a tongue-depressor in one hand and a flashlight in the other, The Old Man took a look at my pipes.

“Your tonsils are kind of a mess,” he told me. “They’re swollen and pretty ugly. No wonder you get a lot of sore throats. We’d better have ’em out of there.”

He told me to go to his office in the morning and talk to his Nurse. She’d set everything up. I did, she did, and a couple of weeks later I walked into Ivinson Memorial Hospital and up to the window marked “Admissions.”

They put me in a room with two other guys. Ace, a talkative ranch hand, was there for a hernia operation that was to take place the next morning at about the same time as my own tonsillectomy. The other roommate didn’t speak, slept a lot, and spent his waking time in a cloudy haze, staring into space. I had never spent the night in a hospital before so the concept of being prodded awake every few hours to be asked if I needed a sleeping pill seemed a little weird.

“Since you don’t have a particularly strong gag reflex,” my nurse told me the next morning, “and you are 19 years old, we are not going to give you a general anesthetic.  Instead, you’ll be sitting up and awake.  That’s just in case a little blood runs down into your lungs. It’ll be easy for you to cough it back up.”

Somewhere inside my head is a bulletin board labeled “Things That are Going to Happen to Me in the Immediate Future.” It took a few moments to take down “Go to sleep and wake up without tonsils. Eat lots of pudding and ice cream” and pin up “It will be kind of like going to Dr. Zuckerman the Dentist and having a tooth filled. I hope the Old Man’s breath is better than Dr. Z’s.” I decided the nurse’s remark about the blood was just overstatement, but the pudding and ice cream remained in my expectations.

Then she gave me an injection and said she’d be back in a few minutes. When she returned, accompanied by an attendant pushing a gurney, I was as high as a red-tailed hawk floating on a summer updraft. I’ve always loved to watch cartoons and when I did, I’d wonder what it would be like to live in Cartoonland where everything was colorful and wildly amusing, where a stick of dynamite could go off in your hand and it would only turn you black and frizzled for a few moments, then you’d be whole again and ready for the next adventure. I don’t know what was in that injection (and it’s probably a good thing I don’t), but it was the ticket to Cartoonland I’d always been wishing for.

Through the hallways of Ivinson Memorial Hospital I giggled, waved at passersby, and asked the attendant and the nurse one silly question after another. I was wondering if I should stand up to ride this surfboard when we crashed through a double door into a dark room. The only illumination was several bright spotlights that lit up what looked like an old fashioned Barber’s chair. They got me off the gurney and into the chair and left.

Anxiety had already started to take the fun out of my hypodermic high when three threatening people wearing white masks and dressed in baggy, white, full body suits came out of the darkness around me. It was The Old Man’s voice that finally cut through my gothic fantasies.

“Okay, Tim, this is Nurse Whidbey, and I think you know Doctor Sullivan. He’s going to perform the tonsillectomy, I’ll just be here to assist.” Out of the murk I recalled being reminded of this. For obvious reasons, a surgeon will never operate on his own family unless it is an emergency and there is no one else there who is equally competent.

After several injections in the back of my mouth, I could feel the area around my tonsils go numb. Then, in short order, my mouth was full of surgical instruments. A wire noose was placed around the tonsil, then forceps  were attached to pull the tissue forward and the wire noose was steadily tightened as it cut deeper and deeper into the flesh.

I only knew two things. A steady stream of blood was running down my throat and much of it down the wrong tube. I coughed and sprayed blood all over myself and Doctor Sullivan. Repeatedly. The other thing I was aware of was pain – horrendous pain. I don’t know if they decided to save some money on anesthetic or what, but it became the job of both the Nurse and The Old Man to hold me down while Doctor Sullivan worked. I couldn’t scream, I was too busy coughing up blood.

When the one tonsil hung by only a few remaining threads, Doctor Sullivan picked up the forceps and twisted the tissue the rest of the way out. Then he clamped the wound, stitched it up, and set the loop and forceps on the other tonsil. Then he and The Old Man stepped back, looked me over, and laughed.

I suppose that to them I was a merry sight. Surgical instruments were sticking out of my mouth in all directions, the bib around my neck was soaked red, and my tears had washed tracks through the blood speckles on my face. Doctor Sullivan had to ask his nurse to clean the crimson mist from his glasses before he could start in on the second tonsil.

After the operation they kept me in the hospital for another twenty-four hours and during that time I learned a few things. One was that they had actually given me plenty of local anesthetic because when that wore off, every attempt to swallow was agony. Ice cream, pudding, and everything else I might have wanted was out. I even had a little tray to spit in so I wouldn’t have to swallow. More than once I remembered that string of sore throats that started it all and I’d look back on them with a feeling bordering on nostalgia.

In time I healed and within a couple of weeks I was back rehearsing with the band once more, happy to find that I could sing again. Perhaps not in always in tune, but lustily.