Old Mack’s Tales

August 12, 2011

The Best Advice I Ever Gave

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 4:53 am
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The Best Advice I Ever Gave Anyone

Stanley and I were sharing a large double in the Holiday Inn in Eugene, Oregon. It was D-Day, June 6th, but in 1967. At breakfast in the dining room Stan mentioned that on D-Day, 1944 he’d been manning one of the waist guns on a B-17 which was part of the air armada of thousands of bombers sent to make yet another daylight attack on Germany. Stan and I were close enough friends to share our war stories with each other, if no one else.

When Stan raised his blond eyebrows his forehead and most of his bald head became a washboard of wrinkled skin.  His broad smile in that round face was disarming, and his speech precise and calculated to impart the least and most positive information about the product he was selling; he tended to ask leading questions to which the only answer was yes.  And Stanley tried to avoid all negativity, especially the front-page news about the war in Vietnam, because he was easily depressed, despite his apparent sunny disposition.  I called Stan “my sunshine pump,” and that always made him laugh.  Stan had driven us down to Eugene from Portland in his new Cadillac Eldorado.  At breakfast Stanley was wearing a brown, silk sharkskin suit with a white shirt and yellow silk necktie.  His brown Price chukka boots were always highly polished.  At fifty, he was slightly overweight, but his height and finely tailored clothing concealed his thin layer of blubber; he simply looked huge and confident, even when he was dubious about his product.

We were in town to sell stock in a new corporation. Shortly after returning to our room from breakfast, and before we started making phone calls, lining up appointments with people to whom we’d pitch our stock, Stan turned on the TV, tuned one of the three news channels and watched the start of the Six-Day-War. Israel had already bombed the crap out of Egypt and its tanks were rumbling through Gaza by then. He looked away from the TV at me, as if I were some kind of oracle.

I kept my mouth shut for a change. Stan picked up the telephone handset, scowled and mumbled: “What do you think General Dynamics’ stock will do? Up, down or sideways, Mack?” Stan cradled the handset and plopped on his bed. “I’ve got a bad feeling in the pit of my gut, Mack.”

“It wasn’t the breakfast, Stan. We both ate the same stuff. You’re probably just anxious about the Market, sweating a margin call. I wouldn’t be surprised if the bottom fell out of General Dynamics’ stock today, Stanley. Those who play the New York exchange short defense contractors’ stocks when there’s any hint of another war. They are already on edge about our war in Vietnam. Contrary to what the people say, investors don’t want another war any more than the Peaceniks do.”

Stan Kelley excused himself and stepped into our bathroom and slammed the door. I heard his belt buckle hit the tile floor. I figured anxiety had loosened his bowels. I left the room and went into the package store next door. It took a while to decide what I wanted to drink; it was still early in the morning, but I knew both of us would want something. Finally, I settled for a fifth of Stoli, picked up a bucket of cubes at the ice machine and returned to our room. Stan was still on the crapper. He was loudly cussing the ventilator fan, which apparently wasn’t working, leaving him trapped on the can with the foul smell of his own waste.

I stuck the bottle of vodka into the ice bucket and then unwrapped a pair of glasses. I heard the toilet flush several times before the door opened and Stan walked into the room buckling his belt. He saw me cutting the seal on the bottle. He smiled like he’d just taken an order for ten thousand shares of the intra-state issue we were peddling. “Mack, you read my mind again.”

After a few shots, Stanley said: “Hold down the fort, Mack. I’m going to that massage parlor up the road and get my ashes hauled. I hate to leave you here without a car, but it won’t take long.” With that Stan pulled out his money clip, peeled off a C-Note and handed it to me. “Take a cab if you have to go anywhere.”

I went to the lobby and picked up the NY Times, the Portland Oregonian and the San Francisco Examiner and a bottle of Schweppes Tonic Water and carried them back to the room. I built a vodka tonic and sat at the desk reading the papers.

An item caught my eye. Gold, which theretofore wasn’t a traded commodity—except for stocks in the mining companies, was about to be set free. As a metal, the stuff was only available for jewelers and manufacturers to buy; if people wanted gold they had to buy jewelry. At the time, the price was pegged by the government at  thirty-five bucks an ounce. For a moment or two I wished I had enough cash to invest in gold, but every dime I had—other than the commissions Stanley owed me—was tied up in real estate, not exactly liquid assets (I was in fact selling securities with Stanley because my brokerage was doing too little business to pay the bills, and I had too many bills). So I filed that bit of news and tried to forget it.

I continued to read the papers. There was a good map of the Middle East in one of them covering Syria, Israel, Gaza and Egypt including the Sinai Peninsula all the way to its tip. I studied that map, for an hour or more, remembering what I’d seen of the terrain when I was on the ground in the area back in 1961. Half drunk by then, I began to think like a fucking General, an Israeli general with an eye patch, and to plan my attacks on Egypt.

At the time, Israeli ships were not allowed to transit the Suez Canal; their imported oil had to come through the Straits of Tirane, or go all the way around the Cape of Good Hope and across the Mediterranean. So I surmised that the port of Aqaba—my access to the Straits of Tirane–which Egypt’s Nasser had threatened to blockade–would be a likely place to send a bunch of my tanks and troops to safeguard the Sinai Peninsula’s tip and the port. Meanwhile, I’d mop up the Egyptians in the Sinai Desert, Gaza and move to the Canal while my aircraft bombed the shit out of the Egyptian tanks and troops and knock the crap out of Cairo. I’d call in my special forces, drop parachutists across the Canal to cut off a possible Egyptian retreat, and send my amphibious troops in rubber boats across to knock out a couple of Nasser’s air bases. Playing the role is much easier than fighting in the desert, easier than dive-bombing cities or tanks. By the time Stan got back from having his massage and getting a blow job, I had already won my imaginary Israeli-Syrian-Jordanian-Egyptian War. And I was a hero in my own mind, and half swacked to boot.

So when we went to dinner that evening, instead of making cold calls to pitch our stock, I began to reiterate my war plan to Stan the Man. God damn! I was fucking eloquent, sounded like Walter Winchell dishing dirt on celebs in San Francisco. I drew a rough map on the table cloth with my ball pen, laid in arrows showing the Israeli attacks, the Egyptian counter attacks, and the whole ball of wax. Stan wasn’t surprised, as one might think he would be. He knew I’d once been an Intelligence Officer; he also believed I had some kind of second sight.

While I held him captive at the dining table, I said: “Stan, put in a sell order for your holding in General Dynamics and buy all the gold you can get your hands on. GD is going to tank and gold is going to soar like an F-111 TFX in after-burner mode!”

Stanley followed my drunken advice and made a fortune. Years later I visited Stan in his home in Oswego, from the road his stockade fence of vertical timbers sunk in the earth reminded me of a fort in Indian country back in the 19th century. I went to the door and there Stan met me, cautiously, holding a .357 magnum revolver in one hand as he ushered me in. Stanley had made so much dough on his investments he’d become cautious as a long-tailed cat in a roomful of rocking chairs. “Excuse the gun,” Stan said. He explained that he wasn’t paranoid; someone had recently shot out his front windows with a shotgun . . . but that’s another story.
the End

August 10, 2011

Yesterday: A Fine Day

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 2:40 am

Yesterday: A Fine Day

It wasn’t as hot or as humid as the day before. But when I stepped barefoot and in my skivvies into the wet grass out back to keep my eye on Walter while he emptied his bladder into Leo’s yard through the chain-link fence, I was attacked by a cloud of mosquitoes. I hollered at Walter and ran back into the kitchen. I nearly caught Walter’s  snout as I was closing the door. He came in, head down, tail tucked, looking up with those liquid dark eyes as if to ask what he’d done wrong. I patted Walter’s head, felt his velvety ears and scratched his chest. It’s not your fault, Walter. I’m allergic to mosquito bites. Walter wagged his tail, tentatively for a moment and then headed for the water bowl.

Half a dozen bites had already swollen to the size of robin’s eggs by the time I got into the bathroom and located the Benedryl Gel. I slathered them with the goop. The whole time I was cussing myself for going outdoors nearly naked on the eighth of August. Walter stopped lapping water and looked at me; his expression was one of bewilderment: What pissed the old man off now?

I sprayed myself with Deep-Woods Off before dressing, to ward off the few mosquitoes that got in before I could slam the door. I was remembering sequentially all the places I’d been where mosquitoes were so thick they could blacken the walls of buildings. Places like Anchorage, Beeville, Texas, and Old Orchard Beach in Maine. By comparison we have relatively few of the pests and, if the county still has the funds to spare, they’ll soon send out the mosquito suppression squads. I was dressed and sipping my first cup of coffee when the phone rang.

My wife was calling from The Retreat to tell me that the doctor told her she needed four or five more days. I tried to put the best face on it.

“It’s not such a bad place, is it?”

“Oh no. They just finished remodeling the building and this wing is like new. My room is almost as big as the library where you and Allison visited me . . . night before last?”

“Last night, Chris. The place looks new and cleaner than most hotels. And you have plenty of company, people to talk to. Here it’s just me and the dogs. . .”

“You’re right. I have friends here. Some of them are as smart as you are and we have some very interesting discussions. Yesterday . . . Did I mention Arnold? Arnold is a bi-polar stock broker. The recession threw him into a funk so he checked himself back in. Yesterday he gave our group a talk about the Standard & Poor’s downgrading the American credit rating from triple-A to double-A plus. He said it means that the credit card lenders will make more money. It won’t make it harder for the government to sell bonds. Is that right?”

“It’s simply part of the right-wing conspiracy to get Obama booted out of the White House by making him look incompetent. Read yesterday’s column by Paul Krugman. . . I’m sure glad I got out of that business.”

“The people I met in Portland who sold stocks were all a bunch of shysters or crooks. I’m glad you quit. We were pretty happy building boats and that big yacht for Don Hutson.  . .until that night I got attacked by the BART cop coming home from Richmond. That’s probably why the doctor said I should stay a while longer. I haven’t mentioned anything like that in the group sessions. . .”

“You’re in a good place right now. Enjoy it if you can. I’m okay here with the dogs. I haven’t killed any of them yet.”

“They are calling us to breakfast. I’ve got to run. I love you.”

She hung up before I could respond. I finished my cold coffee and went back to bed. Walter curled up on the floor, gave my bare feet a lick and we both slept until noon.

The End

August 6, 2011

A Quick Flying Tale

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 3:33 am
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Here’s a quickie:

We’re flying south from Westwego field, over the eastern arm of the Atchafalaya Swamp. Below are scattered cypress, up to their knees in brackish water, and a few random oaks and pines on the hammocks and stands of maple and dogwood planted on dikes serving as service roads. Chris is in the co-pilot’s seat, A.J. is on her knees in the back seat of this Cessna 150, peering down at the billions of birds dotting the surface of the waters. I’m heading for the Gulf of Mexico to show them a sunset that’ll knock them senseless.

We are following a cluster of pipelines, some carrying crude, others natural gas, straight from the wells to the refineries. Ahead and below, where the trees have been cleared from the right of way the water is boiling. Chris sees the boil and asks: “What is that?”

“That my dear is what we’re here for. That’s a ruptured natural gas pipeline. When we get close enough to identify whose pipe that is, you’ll see ice drifting away from the blowout.”

I descend to two hundred feet, read the Texaco marker and ask her to pass me the mike from the Motorola portable beside our daughter.

The report to Alliance Refinery was acknowledged in Hispanic-accented broken English. By now we’re directly over the blowout.

The engine falters. Chris screams and Allison begins to cry. “Are we going to crash, Daddy?”

“Are we out of gas?” Chris asks.

I bank away from the boil, work the throttle a bit, and the engine runs smoothly. “The gas from the pipeline down there got into the carburetor. For a second it cut off the Oxygen, causing the engine to sputter. It’s okay now. I should have seen that coming.”

“I’ve had enough of this adventure, Mack. Take us home to Hammond. I mean right now!”

“That’s a shame. We’ll miss the sunset and won’t see those flamingoes.”

“I can see flamingoes in Florida. Take us home.”

It was almost dark as I made the approach to Hammond from the south in dead calm air. Chris didn’t say another word to me that evening.
The End

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