There was no roaming the country on the motorcycle this summer. I stuck close to the humble manse. And not to write, either, though you may notice the Apple desktop in my writing window on the second floor. I was planning to ride to Utah last month, where Brad Barber and Jeff Bailey, friends of mine from Texas, were timing a project bike on the Bonneville Salt Flats. Then I’d probably end up on the Eastern Sierra to check in with Johnny Danger and his bride, in Bishop, CA. Then maybe camp out on the playa again for Burning Man, in the Black Rock Desert, Nevada.
Alas, I’ve put just 500 miles on the new motor all summer. That’s just a decent day’s ride. Because, on July 11, life suddenly zigged, and caught us all planning on zagged.
The bride of my youth was felled, literally felled, by her work ethic. She was laboring late, as usual, in the operations center at the bank. The janitor had mopped the lunch room floor and failed to set out warning cones for the few employees still in the building. Pam went down there at 6 p.m. to get something out of a vending machine, tide her over until our usual late dinner. And that’s where the whoopsie meets the daisy. She went ass over tin cup on the wet floor, broke her shoulder in two places.
She lay on the floor for 10 minutes until the janitor found her. Then the ambulance was there. She was in Rhode Island Hospital for five days, came home black & blue from the top of her left shoulder almost down to the wrist. To start, it was the color of the sling they sent her home in, then it slowly faded to yellows and greens.
The arm bone isn’t quite lined up properly with the ball of the shoulder socket but the docs are trying to avoid surgery. They say it might heal well enough as-is and there’s no sense making surgical wounds until they know what the arm wants to do. We’ll find out on October 4 whether that plan was a good one or they need to slice & dice after all and she’s starting over again from zero after three months.
She’s smiling here but was feeling pretty beat up and in pain. She won’t take the narcotics. This was early-on when it was taking us an hour to get her showered in the morning. On a good day she was nearly passing out from pain in the shower. On a bad day she’d throw up on the both of us. If she had fainted and fallen I think the more problematic of the two breaks would have quickly become a compound fracture. We were careful to avoid that.
I’ll say this: Always pick a trouper for a life partner. Life’s too short to put up with a high maintenance spouse. Throughout the ordeal she never uttered a single Why me? Poor me, never a hint of a complaint, not about the janitor, the accident, her pain, my cooking. What a woman.
About the cooking, I fixed swell meals when she was up and around and talking me through it, do this, do that. I’ll never get the concept behind spending an hour fixing a dish that’s gone in three minutes, though. I mean, why? By Step 25 I’m not even hungry anymore. But she gets happier as we go. Sounds like she’s hosting a TV cooking show.
“… and now we zest the lemon!”
“Babe, you’re killing me. (Expletive deleted) the lemon.”
We dined by candlelight on the front porch in the evenings, always pleasant. This was after the doc told her she could take off the sling for a few hours a day.
She never complained about having to eat the meals I fixed on my own, all of which started with a pot of boiling water. Throw in black eyed peas, brown rice, red lentils, a dash of red pepper, Voila, madame, le grub du saddlebag.
While I was on full-time nursing/cooking/cleaning/laundering/chauffeuring duty, I pushed some writing work back into next year, living off a cushion I had built up on deadlines for King Features Syndicate. I’ll get back on track soon enough. The bride can shower on her own now, dry her hair, get dressed.
I’m concerned about complications. She’s ruining her back sleeping in a recliner. The doc recommended sleeping upright to keep the arm hanging properly in the sling. Now she can’t sleep in a bed anymore without back spasms. Pain wakes her up around 3, sends her downstairs to the recliner, starts the cycle all over again.
Here she is awaiting her ride to a wedding yesterday. A little worse for wear but still enjoying life when the opportunity presents.
I made new contacts in the movie business this summer. Had favorable coverage on two screenplays at companies I respect, Marty Katz Productions (The Great Raid, Love Ranch…) and Gary Levinsohn’s Mutual Film Company (Jack Reacher, Saving Private Ryan…).
I also had a job offer from Governor Lincoln D. Chafee, as a press aide. So here’s me and the iron piggy at the State House, in Providence.
Can you see me putting on a suit and tie and riding to the halls of power every day? Potato-potato-potato-potato… Neither can I.
We freelance writers lead professional lives best described as scrappy. (On some days you can leave off the “s.”) You never know when your livelihood might suddenly end and leave you scrambling. But I have no regrets about jumping off the safe thing. Far from it.
There was a time when most of what I thought about was the news. Now, I doubt that anything could get me back into it, on either side of the reporter/spokesman divide. On an April day in 2005, I was done. Twenty-six years as a reporter and it was suddenly the past. One minute I fully intended to go back to work after lunch. A minute later, I didn’t. I haven’t even read the newspaper since then. Presto change-o. Moving on.
A lot of my friends still work at the Providence Journal. It would be completely weird to step into a professional relationship with them now and represent a point of view as they cover the administration. It’s not in my nature. And, despite the vote of confidence from the governor, I’m probably not employable in the usual sense anymore. Once the dog digs under the fence and runs around with a Hey, look! I’m being a dog! how are you ever going to keep it in the yard again?
I’d be bonkers sitting up at the State House next June when I want to be riding the motorcycle to Alaska, greet the summer solstice on the Arctic Circle, longest day of the year, June 21. Woof.
Speaking of old trucks (Wha?) I close with a few pics for the motorheads. I managed to get in four days of work this summer on the trusty, rusty, ’49 Ford.
Here she is in the woods behind the house, after I cut out what was left of the floor and tipped the cab back on the chassis.
A few of the floor panels I need are available on the aftermarket: rockers, the front pans, and (below) the stamped pieces that join the front cab mounts to the mid mounts.
Here’s a new one and the remains of a rusted-out 63-year-old original. The hole at the far right is for the forward cab mount, in the engine compartment. The square hole is for the mid-mount in the cab, by the driver’s left foot. That tab sticking up gets welded to the inboard side of the forward door pillar.
Here’s what was left of the original. Glass bottom boat without the glass.
Front halves are easy. Out with the old, in with the new.
The parts I can’t buy I’ll fabricate out of stock steel. I’ll plug weld and short seam all the new pieces, get the cab squared up and structurally sound so that four guys can carry it up the hill without wracking it. Then my friend Mike Connelly will haul it to his garage on a trailer and we (mostly he) will finish it up on the big machine.
My welder has a limited duty cycle, Mike’s got an industrial-grade beast that’ll burn wire all day. And he’s a crackerjack welder, I just stick one piece of metal to another.
Look at the rot in the main support I cut out of the back of the floor, under the cab corners. It had no rust whatsoever when I bought it, after 46 years in Alabama; now it’s crumbling after 15 winters on our salty New England roads. (See my 1995-97 restoration of the truck here.)
The two rear mounts are designed to move as the truck turns and the weight shifts. That stamped-steel beam takes all the stress when it does. It supports most of the weight of the cab, the seat, driver, passenger, and a 17-gallon gas tank bolted to the back wall. (I wonder if that was Ford’s big safety improvement in the post-war “Bonus Built” truck, getting the gas tank out from under the seat and putting it behind the seat. That way you get blown out through the windshield instead of up through the roof, dust yourself off, buy another Ford.)
Nobody makes this piece new. I’ll have to fabricate something from scratch. I’m thinking of a hybrid steel/wood structure made of inch-and-a-half angle iron, 16 gauge sheet metal and hardwood. I’ve asked my friend John Ross to find me a plank of rot-proof West Virginia locust when he visits the old folks later this month.
Until next time, huzzahs and bonhomies to all.
Tony DePaul, Cranston, Rhode Island, September 23, 2012