Old Mack’s Tales

November 26, 2012


Filed under: Uncategorized — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 4:31 pm

November Storm

Down here in Florida things tend to happen in November. Rarely do any hurricanes strike us after the middle of November, but one did back in 1950 and it surprised me as much as the natives.

On the first of the month I rented an efficiency apartment. It was in the half-basement of a house in Lake Worth, and an easy walk to my job; I was carrying block and mixing mud for a mason, who was building a new show room for the Chevy dealer, when that late hurricane came ashore between Hollywood and West Palm Beach.

A few days before the storm hit I had phoned my father, who was out of work in Middle Tennessee and waiting for a job with the Tennessee Valley Authority. He had jokingly said as I was leaving: “Write or phone if you find work.” I didn’t know the joke, which he later told me was common during the Great Depression, when I was but an infant. So I called him, collect, and boasted that I had a job paying 50 cents an hour and had a nice apartment. “Come on down,” I’d said.

I couldn’t believe it when my father, his wife and their kids showed up. But there they all were. Claude doesn’t take up much room, but his wife, Edna, was a buxom big woman and her daughter, Kathy, was a basketball player. My half-brother, Charles Lee, was only ten and skinny as a rail, so he took up the least amount of space. Charlie and I slept on pallets on the floor; Dad, Edna and Kathy shared my big double bed.

On the first day we were all up before sunrise. Dad went off on foot to look for work. I hiked to my job. And Edna and Kathy were there in my apartment sorting the bag of pinto beans for rocks and putting them in the kettle to soak.

Someone must have been warned that the storm was coming because county and city workers were out taking down traffic signs and business owners were taping their plate-glass windows and boarding them up. We were pouring the tie beam and buttresses with concrete that day and it was messy, hard work. I ate my bologna sandwich at noon. But we didn’t do anything else that day but gather up stray boards and tools and store them inside the roofless building to keep them from blowing away. And the whole time my mind was on beans.

Edna might not be the best cook I’ve known, but she can sure cook a great batch of beans, if given the butt of a pork shoulder to flavor them. She had baked a pone of yellow cornbread to go with the beans and boiled some dandy lion greens she and Kathy had picked. All four of us sat on whatever was handy with our bowls of beans on our laps eating as if it were about to go out of style.

We hadn’t no more than crawled into our beds when Charlie moved his pallet closer to mine and asked if I was scared. I admitted I was, but just a bit. The wind was howling and the fronds of those two royal palms out front were clattering like crazy, but the house above us was solid brick and had weathered storms before. Charlie was glad to hear that, and fell asleep with his back side tight against mine.

It was after midnight when Edna got up and turned on the lights. Water was spraying on the bed. A thin, vertical fan of water was being blown in through a hairline crack between the front windows. We shoved the bed to one side of the large room, but nobody was going to sleep in it that night.

“Did you wet the bed?” Charles asked me. I cuffed the back of his head. And then I saw that our blankets were soaked and there was half an inch of water covering the linoleum flooring.

Water was coming in under the door—which opened into the back yard—and it cascaded down the steps. Edna found a dust pan in one of the closets and a small wash tub. Kathy and Charlie and I began sopping up water with bath towels and wringing them over the tub, while dad scooped water up with the dust pan. Edna found a mop and was busy mopping and wringing. When the tub was full, dad carried it up the steps and emptied it out in the yard.

Lord knows how long we bailed water before those fronds from the royal palms began to flog the windows. Both trees had blown over; had they been a few feet taller they would have smashed the front of the house.

When the sun rose we could see that those palm frond had saved us. A red boulevard stop sign was tangled in the branches of the palms and screeching as it fluttered against the brick exterior.

There would be no work in town until the insurance adjustors did their jobs, so we all decided to move north to Lake Eloise; an advertisement in the paper said they needed pickers to harvest the citrus crop. We rode up on the Greyhound bus together. It turned out that I was the only one in the family who did any picking. Dad got a job in the packing plant. Edna was busy making a home in a cheap apartment house and getting Kathy and Charles Lee into school. Before Christmas they all went back to Tennessee, but I remained in Winter Haven until January.

Caveat emptor:  1950 is a long time gone, but to best of my memory the storm mentioned came ashore between Halloween and Thanksgiving that year; I know it was after my birthday and prior to Christmas, for sure.  But records are scarce; 1950 was the first year hurricanes were named, and if the storm didn’t kill many people or destroy millions of dollars worth of property, they were not too newsworthy.  I’m pretty sure, given allowances, that this blow came after Hurricane King, but I will not bet money on it.  Individuals named in the tale are all long gone, every one.


November 3, 2012

The Camera Girl

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 10:30 pm

The Camera Girl

I cannot remember her name, but I can picture her working.  She’s wearing tan slacks and a smock.  Her hair is still in curlers, but it’s light red and short and curly when she takes the scarf off.  I think she’s older than my cousin, Erlie, but I really don’t know, because “it’s not polite to ask a woman how old she is.”  She’s very pretty, like all of the women Harry Gordon hires to work in his locker club.  Harry and the sailors who did business at the Bay City Locker Club called the girl “Red.”  But I wasn’t supposed to call her “Red.”  Maybe her name was Betty, or Mary, something common and easily forgotten.  But I can remember watching her take pictures.

Betty had a section in the Locker Club all her own, and a Dark Room too.  There were all sorts of funny things the sailors could show their faces through and have their picture taken.  One was a muscle-bound guy flexing next to a Hula Girl and a background that looked like a beach, with painted palm trees and the luxury liner sailing in the painted ocean.  A lot of the sailors who came into Harry’s to use his lockers, or to have their picture taken, had been to Hawaii and even to China.  I didn’t really know where China was, but I knew that if you dug a hole in San Diego deep enough you’d come out in China.

Betty had a lot of cameras, but the one she used when I was there to watch was a camera like you see newspaper photographers use in movies with flash bulbs that pop out after the picture is taken.  She had the camera mounted on a three-legged stand and operated it with a cable while she stood away from it and tried to get the sailor to smile.  They couldn’t keep from smiling when she made silly faces at them.  I was always surprised when the flash bulb went off.

It was a rainy day when Betty took my mom’s picture in Harry’s office.  I remember that because my guardian had driven me into town to have my teeth drilled at “Painless Parker’s” and had said several times that having a cavity drilled didn’t hurt as much on rainy days.  That was a lie.  It really hurt, but maybe it would have been worse on a sunny day.

It was December Twenty-first, my mother’s birthday, in 1942, the day Betty took her picture in Harry’s office; maybe you can see the calander on Harry’s office wall, which still shows March, but it was really December and I was only there to visit my mother because it was her birthday.  I had to use a pencil to do the subtraction, 1914 from 1942, to figure out that Ruth, my mother, was twenty-eight that day.  Betty made several prints of the picture she took that day and she put one of them in a cardboard frame so I could take it back to La Jolla and show it to my friends at school to prove I really had a mother and that she really was as beautiful as any movie star.

September 15, 2012

V-J Day in Carson

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 7:12 am
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V-J Day in Carson

I wasn’t very observant when I was a boy. And about the only thing I could control was my bicycle, a used Elgin, sprayed pale green, frame, tires and wheel spokes; the only parts of that bike that weren’t green were the saddle and handlebars with a nickel-plated bell. That Elgin had coaster brakes; it stopped on dry pavement, by pedalling backwards until the cones grabbed the hub and locked the rear wheel. If there was sand or snow on the road, there was no stopping that bike.

I was a month shy of being eleven and living with Jack Parker, the Chief of Police, in Carson City, Nevada when the Atom Bombs were dropped on Japan. There was a large crowd gathering in front of the Senator Hotel and Casino, and Parker was standing on the sidewalk wearing his uniform—light tan Stetson, brown cowboy boots, twill trousers and a military khaki shirt with his badge pinned on it. His gun-belt was polished black leather with a holster stuffed with a .45 chrome-plated six shooter with plenty of ammo in loops on the belt. Parker’s gut hung only slightly over his belt on account of the girdle he wore under his shirt. He looked almost as wide as he was tall.

As I skidded my bike to a stop near The Chief, a couple of scrawny Chinese men were carrying a large pasteboard box up to him. The box, about two feet square and deep, was filled with packaged strings of firecrackers. Chinese people were thronging in the street and waiting for Parker to start distributing the crackers. I never knew there were so many Chinese in the town and I had no idea where they lived. There was no “Chinatown,” such as there was in San Francisco and Los Angeles. I don’t even recall seeing a Chinese restaurant in Carson. I had read about them building the railroads, but assumed they’d moved to the coast, and maybe they had, but had come over the Sierra to celebrate V-J Day in Carson. I still don’t know. But there were hundreds in the street and Parker began tossing packs of crackers to them. He handed me several packs of them without my asking.

People began lighting the strings and tossing them on the pavement among their people, who whooped and hollered and danced out of the way. The celebration went on for half an hour and then they all disappeared. Parker had gone to his car and left the scene. I gave my crackers to some white kids from school because I don’t like the noise and had no matches with which to light them.

I could understand why the Chinese were so happy about the Japanese losing the war; many had roots in Nanking, which was the scene of a terrible massacre, according to
the newsreels. When it was all over the street was covered with red scraps of paper from the exploded crackers almost as if it had snowed red snow flakes. I had to walk my Elgin back to Parker’s house; I couldn’t get any traction in the paper flakes.

September 7, 2012

Remembering The Mojave Desert

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 2:47 pm
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Young Mack in the Mojave Desert

Monday, September 03, 2012



Mack’s 9th Birthday, with Nancy Richmond’s present on his feet.

They are sitting on the rim of the cistern which extends 30’ below ground.

I completed the Fourth Grade in the Mojave Desert schools, half in the Lucerne Valley and the rest in Apple Valley.  My big sister, Laura, had been boarding with a family of Seventh Day Adventists in National City, but she was sent up to Victorville on the bus and Missus Richmond brought her out to the ranch.  She and Nancy Richmond were about the same age, and they shared a bedroom; I slept on a roll-away cot in the large country kitchen.  It wasn’t long after Laura moved in with us that my fourth-grade classmate got polio and died, and the Lucerne Valley’s two-room school was closed.  And then, in seemingly short order, Chief Richmond—who had been Missing in Action, somewhere in the South Pacific—was found and sent to Norfolk, Virginia for shore duty.

For my Ninth Birthday, September 18th, 1943, I wished for cowboy boots.  None could be found due to the war shortages and the small size of my feet.  Nancy stuffed the toes of a pair of boots she’d outgrown with tissue paper and gift wrapped them for me.  It was the act which made me declare my love for her.  Her response: “Now, quit whining about not having any boots!”

Nancy saw me as the little brother she’d always wanted, someone to mentor in the manly art of fist fighting, horse-back riding, and spelling.  Nancy was an avid reader of Reader’s Digest and the first page she turned to in a new issue was “How to Improve Your Word Power.”  But she also read western novels and stories by Zane Gray..  She took issue with some of the western hero’s character traits; for example, she thought the hero who waited for his adversary to throw the first punch or make the first move to draw his six-shooter was nuts.  “When one of the boys challenges you to a fist fight, Mack, don’t wait for him to punch your lights out.  You hit first and aim for his nose.  If you hit him hard on the nose it will bleed and make his eyes water; while he’s blinded by tears, beat the shit out of him.”  When I complained that her tactic wasn’t fair, she punched me in the nose to prove her point and then said: “Fighting is stupid.  But if you have to fight, fight to win!”  I believed her, and later never had more than one fight per new school and that usually on the first day.”  Nancy also got me interested in reading.  Our library at school had all of the books by Rutheford G. Montgomery and I started reading one which was related to the news of the day.  Rough Riders Ho! The story about tankers in North Africa fighting Rommel’s Panzers came out while the battle for control of desert was still going on.  Thus I got interested in reading the newspapers and watching the Time Marches On newsreels at the movies, instead of running off to the Boys’ room between features.

Nancy was almost as fine a rider as her mother.  I had to keep one hand on the pommel of my saddle or grasping the Pinto’s mane while galloping across the rough desert terrain behind them.

Missus Richmond carried a double barreled derringer, especially when we went riding.  On one occasion she shot a sidewinder with it from the back of her horse.  She claimed it was a lucky shot, but she cut off the rattle and gave it to me as a “good luck charm.”  After my real sister, Laura, arrived at the ranch, she resented Nancy’s attempts to tutor me, but all in all Laura and Nancy got along fairly well; they sometimes hollered at each other, but they never had a real fist fight.

Laura complained a lot about the Seventh-Day Adventists she’d been living with.  Her main gripes were that they wouldn’t let her wear makeup, eat hamburgers, or go dancing.  I suppose those things are pretty important to a twelve-year-old girl.  Laura didn’t like the desert much either.  She was terrified of snakes and horned toads and kangaroo rats and the bats that hung from the rafters of the barn and swooped down after flying insects at twilight.

But she and Missus Richmond got along pretty well.  I suppose Laura relieved Missus Richmond’s boredom, and she was more interested in cooking than Nancy was; Nancy was pretty much of a Tomboy.

When we were dumped at the Nyquist’s boarding ranch, Laura’s chores included taking care of their toddler, cleaning house and helping Missus Nyquist with the cooking and dishwashing.  All of the girls at the ranch lived together in the attic on cots and had no privacy from each other.  Laura didn’t mind working, but she would have preferred to go swimming in the reservoir with us boys than bathing in a galvanized tub on the kitchen floor.  When our aunts came to get us, they made a fuss about how “filthy” we were and the first thing Aunt Tessie did when we got to her house in North Hollywood was to soak Laura in her bathtub and wash her hair with something to kill the lice.  Laura and Tessie got along just fine.

I recall very little about our time at Aunt Tessie’s other than the red streetcars that took us anyplace we wanted to go.  One of the places was the amusement park at the beach. Laura would wear lipstick and mascara when we went to the amusement park and she enjoyed being flirted with by the young sailors in the Fun House.  There were herds of sailors where ever we went in L.A.

I remember going to our Uncle Lawrence’s riding stable up in the hills, and to the North Hollywood Municipal Swimming Pool.  I can even recall the song they played on the Public Address system:  “Her Tears Flowed Like Wine.” And I remember playing tag and cutting the corners by jumping into the pool, and the lifeguard blowing his whistle when we ran.  And I remember the great hamburgers they made–when meat was available–at the concession stand too.

And I seem to remember being hungry all the time.  For some reason I was never told why things happened the way they did.  I never really knew why Aunt Tessie took us to that boarding house in Hollywood.  I remember the building. We lived in the two-stories above, over  a garage and a store on the sidewalk level which had been converted into a school room with blackboards and chairs with desks attached and ink wells and having to learn to write with pens and dipping the pens in the ink and making a whole line of connected, slanting ovals and letter e and l and b and p.  Most of all, I remember the small meals and not ever getting seconds and being hungry.  I remember playing hide and seek and kick the can with the kids and once, while looking for a can in the trash barrel finding a jar of rancid peanut butter and eating the stuff, scooping it out with my fingers,  because I was starving; I could sympathize with the prisoners of war who were starved and beaten in the movie “Bataan.”  It was “unpatriotic” to complain about shortages when so many people in the world had nothing for supper at all.  I complained.  It got me transferred to Aunt Rene’s chicken ranch in Fontana, where I had plenty of chores to do.


On the chicken ranch the laying hens all lived in three long houses with roosts like bleachers and the nests in long rows of boxes.  Delbert, Uncle Vernon’s son from a previous marriage, did most of the heavy lifting until I got strong enough to carry a bag of chicken feed and then I would carry them from the truck into the feed room and he would stack the burlap sacks of stuff.  I had the nastiest job of going under the roosts and gathering up dead chickens and walking in all of that chicken shit.  Chickens would peck each other to death.  If a chicken laid too big an egg and bled, she was immediately pounced on by the flock and pecked to death; it was terrible and it made me hate chickens.  I didn’t care much for dogs either.

Aunt Rene had a pair of big dogs.  Rex, the male, was pure German Shepherd.  Lady, the bitch, was Alsace-Lorraine Shepherd.  Lady had a litter of pups, six of them, but she wouldn’t let you get near them and when the pups were weaned and kept in the fenced yard originally built for pullets, they grew up mean as Rex.

One of the best things about living with Aunt Rene and Uncle Vernon was the food.  Aunt Rene was a terrific cook.  The two cows, especially the Guernsey, gave us gallons of milk every day and we made cottage cheese with the whey left over from churning butter in the dasher.  Aunt Rene made her own mayonnaise too, which she colored with something that made it orange.  And she baked bread, biscuits and cornbread. I got fat at Aunt Rene’s.

I made a good friend while attending school in Fontana.  Jim Dougherty was in the typing class with me and one day, during a speed typing test, Jim came by and hooked my ribbon with his finger and dragged it half way down the aisle.  After school we had a fist fight, which we declared a draw. After we fought Jim invited me to his house to see his model airplanes.  There Jim showed me how to cover the balsa-wood wings with silk or paper; it was a technique I later used on my own models.  Jim also showed me how to tape the plans to a work table and cover it with wax paper and then pin the balsa parts directly on the lines and then glue them together.  It was the way his father had taught him and the models his father had helped him build hung from cup hooks screwed into the ceiling of his bedroom; they were beautiful.  Jim’s father, if still alive, was rotting in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in the Philippines or Japan.

Aunt Rene also had a Jersey heifer.  She was a beautiful cow named “Elsie.”  Elsie would follow me like a dog around the corral and lick my hand with her raspy tongue.

One day I made the mistake of feeding Elsie from a new bale of green alfalfa hay.  When I came home from school that evening Uncle Vernon was sticking his knife into Elsie’s stomach, which was bloated like a barrage balloon.  He was too late to save Elsie’s life.  He called a neighbor to come with his tractor and trailer and haul Elsie away.  Uncle Vernon explained that cows can’t belch or pass gas because of their multiple stomachs.  So they blow up until something pops and stops their hearts.

I read in the Inland Empire News that Fontana, California is called “Fontucky” now. 

Google now shows housing developments where there were only miles of grape vineyards owned by the Gallo Winery.  The fields were all bordered by tall eucalyptus trees, and in those tree lines there were cylindrical standpipes of the buried irrigation pipelines into which we plunged to cool off on hot summer days. ~~End~~

January 31, 2012

Flying Gypsy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 8:38 am
The Gypsy Pilot Episode.

A Gypsy Pilot will fly anything with fixed wings, anyplace at any time, for a fee. It’s a tough row to hoe, and nobody I know ever got rich or even stayed solvent for long, doing this kind of flying. But it sure was a blast while it lasted.

I had a salaried job demonstrating new Beechcraft Bonanzas and Debonairs to prospective buyers all over Oregon and Eastern Washington.  It had been fun for a while, but then it began to feel like riding a carousel horse. I logged many hours in good airplanes, landed in countless farmers fields (wheat ranchers were our prime prospects) and at every airport on the sectional charts, but in the end I was getting nowhere fast. So I put out the word to fixed base operators that I would be happy to deliver airplanes for them, or take their buyers to the factories in Wichita,Kansas or Kerrville, Texas to pick up their new planes.

Ron Scott, the FBO and Mooney Aircraft distributor at Albany, Oregon called me one day. He reached me at Milt Ruberg’s airport in Springfield, OR, where I was consoling Milt for the loss of his son to cancer. Ron Scott said: “I’ve got three men who have to get to Kerrville, Texas  to take delivery of their new Mooney Super-21s.  Could you fly them down there?”

“Be glad to do it, Ron,” I said, “If I can get Milt to fly me up to your place; he recently lost his son, and is in a funk. Maybe I’ll talk him into flying up in his Boeing Stearman. Some oil smoke and wind in his face might get his head straight.” I looked at Milt. The old man had half a grin on his leathery kisser as he nodded.
“We’ll give you a call on the Unicom frequency, Ron,” I said. Milt was already shrugging on his leather jacket as I hung up the phone.

“This is the best notion anybody has had, Mack,” Milt said as he did a low altitude barrel roll with the Stearman over Coburg, Oregon. As we approached Albany, Milt’s voice came through my head set: “Thanks, Mack. Any time I can help you out buddy, just call me.” Milt greased the wheels on the macadam runway at Albany in a perfect three-point full stall landing. He waved a gloved hand at Ron as I climbed out of the front cockpit. I barely had time to get out of the way of his empennage, when Milt hit full throttle and took off.

Ron and I watched Milt put on a show of aerobatics before he headed south for Springfield. Sadly, Milt’s name, his airport and his son’s name are all Xes in my address book now.

We walked into Ron’s office. He poured two cups of coffee and sweetened them with old bourbon. We toasted all the men like Milt that we knew or had known. Then we got down to business.

“You’ll have to let these guys each fly a leg of the trip to Kerrville, Texas.  None of them has much experience with the Mooney’s manual landing gear retraction and lowering mechanism, so let them get some practice landings along the way,” Ron said, as he wrote their names down on my knee board.
One man was the FBO at the McMinnville airport, another lived in St. Helens and would meet us at the Hillsborough airport, and the third man asked me to pick him up at Portland International Airport at the Flightcraft office—my former employer; it would not make my old boss happy to see me flying the Mooney , but so it goes.
As we walked out to one of Ron’s older Mark-21 aircraft, he pulled a wad of bills from his pocket and peeled off three C notes. “If this doesn’t do it, call me and I’ll wire you more cash,” Ron said. Then he added: “I’ll pay you your fee when you get back, if that’s okay with you.” I had agreed to do the job for twenty-five bucks an hour based on the time on the tachometer. I didn’t believe in charging for time I’m on the ground due to crappy weather, or a hangover.

“I’ll lead them back here over the Mountains as far as Phoenix or Tucson. From there they can find their way  home.  A buddy of mine is recuperating from crash injuries at the Grand Canyon and I plan to stop there for a visit before coming back. Will that be okay with you?”

“Sure,” Ron said, “The weather may be better down there. But be sure to instruct these guys about the rotor zones on the lee side of the mountains before you cross the Cascades with them; I don’t think they’ve had much mountain flying experience, except for the guy from McMinnville.”

I asked if any of the men had flown in formation.  Ron didn’t know.

“I suppose you could teach them after they pick up their planes.”

That old Mooney Mark 21 was a tight fit for four full-grown men. The guy from McMinnville flew the plane from his field to pick up the other two passengers; he was an experienced flight instructor and had no problems with the throw-over bar that retracted and lowered the landing gear. I sat in the right hand seat–sweating,  just as I always do when I’m not controlling the airplane I’m in.

The guy from St. Helen’s had to get used to more than the landing gear; he’d never flown a high performance, low wing plane before. He got the gear down okay, but tried to land twenty feet above the runway at Boise, Idaho. I told him to take a “wave off,” but he didn’t comprehend. “Go around again!” I shouted into his right ear. Then I had him make three touch and go landings before making a final and swapping seats with the man from Oregon City whom we’d picked up at Portland International.

Oregon City guy did fine until we landed in Salt Lake City. He would have landed gear up, if I hadn’t reminded him. He too had to make several touch and go practice landings before we could all go in for lunch. After lunch, I put Oregon City back in the command pilot’s seat and gave him the Omni heading for Colorado Springs.

The damned fool tried to take off and climb directly over the mountains east of Salt Lake City. I could hear McMinnville in the back seat groaning as the mountain loomed ahead of us. I wanted to let the guy make his own decision, right up until the last minute.  But with four men and our overnight bags in the plane, we were at full gross weight. I explained that the Mark 21 didn’t have as much power as the Super 21 he had bought from Ron. He gave me a blank stare and continued on course, climbing at less than 100 feet per minute. When it was obvious that we couldn’t clear the mountain, I told him to execute a climbing 180 degree  turn and get more altitude before trying to cross it.

While he was climbing, I lectured all three men on the danger of rotor zones on the lee side of mountains: “They can smash you right into the damned ground. So keep at least two thousand feet above the tops of mountains. Winds are lifted by the mountains and break like an ocean wave when the go over the top. On the windward side you get plenty of free lift, but when the wave breaks, it’s like being in an elevator with a broken cable; downdrafts of thousands of feet per minute lurk on the leeward side of the hill.”

When we landed in Kerrville that night, I was exhausted, even though I’d flown the plane for only an hour during the trip.  A rep from the Mooney factory drove us to a motel. We doubled up in two rooms  and I paid the bill.

Before the three men went up with a check pilot from the Mooney factory, I briefed them all on the basics of flying formation, using a couple of model airplanes in the instructor’s lounge. I asked the check pilot if he would show these guys how to intercept my airplane as I circled over the field. He said that it was against company policy, but if I just happened to be circling up there within ten miles of their airport, he’d demonstrate the intercept maneuver.

“How tight do you want these guys to fly on your wing?” he asked. I told him to feel them out. Wingtip separation and step-down would be up to him. “Just don’t bump into me, okay?”
McMinnville slid in on my port wing very smoothly, but then he got sucked. That is, he took off too much power and fell behind. After a bit of throttle jockeying he managed to hold a good position at a 45º angle, in a left echelon and twenty feet lower than my wing. Crossing him from left to right, under my fuselage was a bit nerve-wracking for me and the check pilot, but after a few tries McMinnville got it. The guy from Oregon City would have nothing to do with formation flying; he said he’d take his time and fly VFR back to Oregon by himself via Wyoming and Idaho. The St. Helen’s dude tried like hell to maintain formation after completing a rendezvous, but would not, or could not move in closer than 100 feet between our wingtips. That would have to do, as the check pilot couldn’t spend more time with us without catching hell from his boss.

Oregon City took off heading for Wichita, Kansas, but put the airplane down at Midland-Odessa airport and called it a day, the Rep from Mooney reported.

McMinnville took off first in his new Super 21 and orbited west of Kerrville, where St. Helen’s joined him in a very loose formation. I joined them and took the lead, moved them into position off each wing like goslings. Their airplanes could out run mine easily, so I set the pace for them.

It was a beautiful day. Clear all the way to Santa Fe, but beyond that there was a squall line. Both men were in a hurry to get home, but neither was instrument rated, or at least not current. They agreed to follow me through a notch in the mountains west of Deming where the bottoms of the thunder bumpers were less than five thousand feet above the summits and lightning was striking the peaks on both sides of the pass.
We  circled east of the pass to gain altitude, but just enough to keep our heads out of the clouds. Then we headed for the tunnel of light over the pass. Half way through that eerie green tunnel we met two Air Force fighter jets coming at us head on. Whether those two jet jockeys had us in sight or on their radar is doubtful. They screamed over our planes close enough to bounce us around in their wake.

We landed at Tucson International and had a drink together before they went on their way. I noted as we bumped our shot glasses together that all of our hands were trembling.

After a night in Tucson, I flew up to the South Rim and landed. When I called his number, I got the word that Elling was recuperating at the North Rim Lodge. I asked the FBO about the small air strip on the north side of the canyon. He told me  it was on a side hill with several humps and dips in it. “But it ain’t that bad.”

I topped off my fuel tanks at the South Rim airport.   I planned to look over the strip on the north side and land on it, if it looked okay. I figured I’d have to hike to the lodge where Elling staying.

Hot air is less dense than cold air. The higher the airport, the lower the density. The power an engine can put out, the lift of the airfoil and the thrust of the propeller are all directly proportional to the air density.  Landing at an airport  8,000 feet above sea level when the temperature is 90 degrees is like landing on the top of Mount Whitney; the density altitude is around 14,000 feet. You have to land hotter, which takes a longer roll out than you’d need at sea level, or on a colder day. This particular dirt landing strip is draped across three fingers on the side of a hill. It was long enough, but only because it was tilted upwards from the north end to the south. The whole landscape tilts upwards from 7,000 feet to almost 9,000 feet there on the high plateau north of the Grand Canyon..

I landed okay, but the roll out was like riding swells on a surfboard. Heavy braking got me stopped short of some scrub junipers at the south end of the dirt strip. A jeep driver from the lodge picked me up and delivered me to Elling Halvorson’s retreat.

My reunion with Elling was interesting. His crash injuries had been extensive and life threatening, but he had mended more rapidly than he  expected. Elling’s experience had transformed him; he’d been “born again,” The main topic of our conversation was his religious experience, and his new corporation for taking tourists on helicopter rides in the Canyon.

I’ve never been able to sit long for sermons. I cut the meeting short, saying that I had to make it to Las Vegas before dark. I concocted something about navigation lights, as I recall.
I got a ride out to the strip. The driver returned to the lodge. I debated with myself about having the driver return with containers so I could drain most of the gas from the Mooney; without the weight of gasoline, I knew I could take off and land at the South Rim. On the other hand, if I could get off the ground with full tanks, I could spend the night in Vegas.  Of course there was also the option of spending the night at the lodge and leaving in the cool of the morning, but that would have been out of character, as writers say. I chose the riskier option; I would attempt to take off with full fuel tanks and fly to Vegas.

Maybe the heat and altitude affected my critical faculties,  I certainly wasn’t using my head. The wind was dead calm. I could have taken off to the north and it would have been all down hill.

I sat at the north end, revved the engine and released the brakes. As soon as the wheels broke ground, I raised the landing gear. I climbed until the plane would climb no more, and then found that I had only fifteen or twenty feet between my butt and the deck. The landscape was climbing as fast as I was.  At the far end of a long meadow there were tall ponderosa pines that I knew I couldn’t clear.

It was beginning to look like I’d have to ditch the plane.  I  had barely enough altitude to bank the wings a few degrees without dragging a wingtip on deck. I was munching the seat cushion with my puckering strings and talking to myself out loud.

Ah, there’s a glimmer of light.  Pay attention.  That’s a reflection from water in a brook.  Follow it.  It’s flowing west through a break in the forest.  Easy now, gentle bank, that’s it.  Easy on the controls.  Pay attention.

I gently banked right and flew between the trees.  I followed the stream.  When it cascaded over the rim of the canyon, I followed it in a steep dive, gaining surplus airspeed, before zooming upwards. I felt like I just made my point on a craps table.

I knew it was my lucky day, as I pointed the nose of the old Mark 21 toward Vegas, trimmed the plane and lit a Winston. A cigarette never tasted so good.

My Course-Deviation instrument wasn’t working properly. It was indicating that I was on course to my destination–Las Vegas.   But I had drifted north into restricted air space.

Ground Control Intercept radar had obviously picked up my blip on their scopes.  Two fighters from Nellis AFB scrambled and were looking for me.  I dove for the deck, turned south and wove through the canyons until I came out over Lake Mead. The interceptors either lost me, or lost interest after I left their area. Over the Lake I climbed up to traffic pattern altitude and landed at Thunderbird Airport in Las Vegas.

A guy from the electronics shop checked the instrument. He said he would fix it in the morning, and then gave me a ride into town..

He parked at the Travel Lodge Motel. That’s when  I realized that four singles were all the cash I had left. I had blown the money on fuel, meals, and motel rooms for all four of us. I used my Mobile credit card to rent a room for the night, and then bought the tech guy a drink at the bar.

While he sipped his drink, I took the dime and quarter change and put them into two slots. I pulled the handles at the same time and hit a jackpot on both machines. There was a flood of dimes and quarters. After converting the change to bills, Tech Guy suggested that we take a look at the new casino across the road which had “Grand Opening” signs fluttering behind some fantastic, illuminated fountains.

The new casino was “Caesar’s Palace,” and it looked like one. Inside the dealers and waitresses were clones May Britt, blond hair, long legs and wearing short vestal virgin white togas, enticing that is.

I sat across from a lonely blackjack dealer with emerald eyes the size of quarters and bumped heads with her until my stacks of silver dollars were about to topple. My Tech friend had gone home, so I dined alone in splendor. After paying for the meal, I returned to the Travel Inn, showered and hit the sack.

The next morning, when Tech Guy picked me up, I counted my winnings; it was close to three hundred bucks. That’s not a lot of dough, unless you were down to your last buck when you made it. Then it feels like a fortune, heavy yet comfortable in the pockets.

It took Tech Guy only minutes to fix my CDI. The instrument worked fine all the way back to Albany.

Ron paid me off, and then flew me down to Springfield, were I was living in a boarding house near the University of Oregon campus. That night I went to the “Down Under” night club and listened to Monty Fisher and his band “Amazing Grace” play some fine mountain blues.

I was enjoying my new career as Gypsy Pilot.  I’d made several mistakes due to my complacency.   I would not make the same mistakes in the future; I would make different mistakes, and learn from them too.


January 30, 2012

OldMack’s 17 Foot Sloop

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 6:47 pm
Located in Mack's back yard in Seminole, Florida.  There's a trailer for it and a 4hp Johnson kicker

Ron sailing his boat solo on Boca Ciega.  Photograph by Christine McKinney taken using her telephoto lens.

Christine and Ron were partners in the building of this boat from Ron’s design in their own back yard.   The hull of their boat is laminated wood and epoxy sheathed in epoxy saturated Dynel cloth.  It has a stainless steel centerboard and a dry storage compartment forward of the mast and main bulkhead.  The cockpit sole is spruce planked and when padded makes a good bed.  Spars are aluminum by Kenyon.  Sails, main and jib, are of Dacron.  There is sufficient flotation fore and aft to prevent sinking if swamped.

January 28, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 7:04 am

On The Beach

January 13, 2012

Memoir of Old Jack, an Army Mule

Filed under: Short Stories — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 8:34 am

Call Me Old Jack,

This is how an Army Mule retires: working with cowboys and tourists in the Grand Canyon; this is the watering and rest stop at Indian Gardens, where a young Mack was staying while he worked on the Trans-Canyon Pipeline which supplies the water.

My daddy was a jackass stallion; Momma was a big roan mare.

I was born on Roan Mountain on Black Tuesday in 1929

I’m an old Jack Mule now, who has been most everywhere.

I was born in North Car’lina.  Had it not been for hard times, some called it the Great Depression, I might have spent a lifetime draggin’ stone boats up them hills.  A sawed off mountain lad the local yokels called Mack thought I was his pet, like that yeller hound dog and the old Dominicker chicken that follered him around those mountains.  I follered him too, because he was needy.  And, to tell the truth, I liked to munch on the parched corn the kid always carried in the pockets of his overalls.

Mack was a lightweight, a scrawny kid.  Even when I was just a colt I’d let him ride on my back; I hardly knew he was there.

Mack’s daddy got hard up for cash and had me trucked to Jonesboro, Tennessee.  I thought that was the last I’d see of Mack, but danged if I wasn’t mistaken.  I was sold at auction to a feller from Memphis who bought mules to resell to the U.S. Army.

I was most full grown when the Quartermaster from Fort Reno won the bidding.  From Memphis a bunch of us sturdy young studs (that’s just a figure of speech, you know we mules are sterile, which means we can’t reproduce—it don’t mean we’re queer) and a few Jennies were loaded on a train and hauled out to Oklahoma.  I fell for the cutest blue-nose Jenny you’ve never saw during that long, smoky train ride.  Prettiest eyes and ass you’ve ever seen, love at first sight so to speak.  But they kept us apart, chained to the stanchions of that cattle car.  Maybelline was my Jenny’s name.  Our romance was brief and unrequited as they say, but I’ll never forget those eyes.

At the Remount Depot, in Fort Reno we had our Army physical exams, got our shots for tetanus and anthrax, and were tattooed in our ears.  Poor Maybelline caught a cold during the train ride and it developed into pneumonia; she dropped dead while we were having our hooves examined, poor thing.  I reckon the Army veterinarian though I was in good shape—better’n most due to the workouts with the stone boats in those mountains of North Carolina; some of those Missouri mules was half starved when they were recruited, or acquired—so they gave me my service number, 08K0 and shipped me down to an artillery regiment at Fort Sill.

I’m sure stranger things have happened, but imagine my surprise when they put on the chow wagon team and assigned a Buck Private by the name of Mack to ride me.

I reckon if you’ve seen those movies about the 20-Mule Teams that lug those wagons filled with Borax out of Death Valley, you probably got the wrong impression.  We weren’t driven like that, with a man sitting in the wagon, steering us with reins and crackin’ a bull whip over our heads like we were dumb oxen.  No it wasn’t that way at all.  Of course we were harnessed, collars and all, but experienced mule such as myself were put at the head of the team, saddled and ridden by our soldier.  In my case it was my old partner, Mack.

Now I don’t know for sure that Mack recognized me right off, the way I knew him by his smell.  But the first time the Private came close with a bag of corn nuts, I snatched ‘em out of his hand.

The dumb kid might have slugged me, but an old Sergeant had his eye on him.  I nudged Mack with my nose in that spot where he was ticklish, and got him laughing.  And then I gave him back his bag of corn nuts and he shared ‘em with me.  He knew from that moment on just who I was.

“Jack!” He hollered like he’d met a long lost friend, “You sonofabitch, I thought it was you.”

Well, to make a long story short, Mack got married to a girl over in Marlow, had some kids and got out of the Army.  And me, well they hauled me to California on the train, put me on a ship and sent me to Honolulu in Hawaii.  I wound up working for those dog face soldiers at Schofield Barracks, packing loads of K-Rations to feed them, when they went on maneuvers in the Kuhuku Forest on the Pali.

Next thing you know those Japanese airplanes came over and bombed our biggest ships in Pearl Harbor and clobbered all of our airplanes at Hickham Field.  That, friends, was a day to remember.  I have to tell you how dumb the Army Officers were; they had men walking guard duty and manning the anti-aircraft guns, but wouldn’t give them any ammo—dumber than horses they were.  And they didn’t get much smarter as time went on ( I heard they’re using horses in Afghanistan’s mountains, which is clearly a job for mules) but I digress.

I got another boat ride to Australia on my way to the China-Burma-India Theater of War.  For you young folks reading this I should explain that a Theater of War ain’t what you may be thinking—we didn’t put on plays.

When we got off the boat in India, we were assigned to the Engineers who were building a road across the Himalaya Mountains into northern Burma and on into southwestern China.  Now that was some damned hard work.  The loads we carried and the muck we had to hike in was hard to believe.  Then there were those jungles and the Japs.  Need I mention the altitude, or the attitude of those draftees marching through that muck?  Just think of the Ledo Road as hell on earth.  Back and forth over those mountains we went, humping loads that would kill a work horse, swimming rivers filled with leeches. It was not only hard work, but deadly boring until someone started shooting.  We reached Myitkyina finally.  That’s where the Ledo  Road joined the old Burma Road. And from there we went on to Kunming, China followed by the trucks. In 1944, I was in a column of experienced mules loaned by the U.S. Army to the Chinese Nationalist Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek.

Chiang was an arrogant sonofabitch who was pulling a fast one on Uncle Sam, hoarding the loot the U.S. shipped to him over the Ledo-Burma Road and not doing much fighting with the Japanese to speak of, so it should surprise no one that Mao and Chou En-Lai’s Red Army whipped his butt.  That’s when I became a Prisoner of War.

Like all POWs everywhere, I was harnessed to a plow one day and draggin’ a Red Army wagon the next.  Little by little I made my sway from south China to Manchuria.  I even spent a while at Port Arthur working for the Russians, until the war ended—the civil war that is.

As you may recall, the peninsula of Korea was split in two along the 38th Parallel of Latitude and the Sovs occupied the northern half and the U.S. Army ran the southern half.  That situation began to change even while Mao and Chou were still fighting the old Generalissimo Chiang’s army.  In 1949, Chiang and his Nationalist Army bugged out of China and settled on Formosa, an island once owned by the Japs that’s called Taiwan.  The Red Army won the war and Mao was set up as the leader of The People’s Republic of China.

Meanwhile, one of them Koreans by the name of Kim Il-Sung, who’d been to Moscow and learned Communism, and then fought in the Red Army went home to Pyongyang and took over as head of the government in North Korea, which he called The Peoples’ Republic of North Korea.   So Kim Il-Sung got Chairman Mao to send all of the Koreans who’d fought in China against Generalissimo Chiang back home.  Then Kim got his buddy, Uncle Joe to send him a bunch of tanks and burp guns, fuel and ammo and he built himself one mighty army.

Kim’s troops were mostly experienced soldiers.  Singman Rhee’s army in The Republic of Korea, down south of the 38th Parallel, on the other hand were mainly peasants in uniforms with little or no training and though they were reinforced with a regiment of U.S. Army troops and Officers, they were nowhere near as good as Kim’s armies.

So, with permission from Uncle Joe Stalin, the acquiescence of Chairman Mao, and the promise of air support from the Soviet Air Forces in Siberia, Kim Il-Sung invaded South Korea on the 25th of June, 1950.  Let me tell you true, Kim’s troops and tanks went through the South Koreans like shit through a tin horn.  But like most invaders, Kim made a great mistake; he went too far too fast.  By the time his army was down near Pusan, at the Naktong River, he ran out of gas for his tanks, ran out of ammo too.  Well, almost out of ammo, but not quite.  And he went farther than the Soviet Aircraft could fly and fight and still get back to their bases in Siberia and Manchuria.  So Kim’s army was in about the same shape our U.S. Army was that Sunday morning in 1941, when those Jap airplanes hit us on Oahu.

Next thing you know, General MacArthur landed two thirds of a Marine Division and a bunch of soldiers at Inchon and cut off the North Koreans stuck down south.  With the remnants of the R.O.K. Army and the First Marine Brigade and some U.S. Army reinforcements whipping them down on the Naktong, in Mason and so many places, there wasn’t too much left of Kim’s army left to fight.

Well, Kim Il-Sung wasn’t the only one to make mistakes.  Danged if Macarthur didn’t do the same foolish thing of extending himself too far by pushing the fight clean up to the Yalu River—the boundary between Korea and China—with winter coming on.  Some of those old generals were dumb as stones, in spite of all the glory heaped on ‘em.

It was late in November, when the Chinese loaded me up with ammunition and sent me across the river with all those Chinese Volunteers.  It must have been the coldest damned winter on record.  Damned ice was thick enough to hold a tank, but slick!  By then my shoes were worn down so thin they looked like tin foil, no cleats on them at all.  I slid on the ice at every bend in the trail, skint my knees, near broke a leg.  And Christ knows I wasn’t a young Jack by then.  I was Old Jack, and Cold Jack.  By the time the Chinese Volunteers chased the Marines out of the Frozen Chosen Reservoir area down to their ships at Hamhung and the U.S. Army well south of Seoul, I was one Hungry Jack.  What I would have given for a bag of corn nuts that winter.  I must have lost thirty or forty pounds or more.

Then President Truman fired General MacArthur, so I heard, and put another in charge and he counter-attacked and there I was, caught right in the midst of another melee.

Tell you what, by then I’d had ten years of war, damn near continuous war, and I was tired of it.  You can call me a coward if you like.  But I’d had enough, thank you.  I clomped down through the rubble of the Railroad Station in Seoul and hid.  That’s what I did.

After the battle was over, a little Korean boy found me hiding in the dark.  I reckon he must have thought I was a pony—God knows I’d lost a lot of weight.  So the kid, name of Tack Su-Tu, rode me out of the rubble of the Railroad Station and was heading for his daddy’s farm in the Taebak Mountains, when an M.P. stopped us.

The M.P. ran little Tack Su-Tu off and took me prisoner.  Before you know it, I was humping ammo up some mountains higher and steeper than any in North Carolina in a place called The Punch Bowl and a hill called Heartbreak Ridge.  It was nowhere as rough as the Himalayas, but then I wasn’t the youngster I was back then neither.  It was rough, I’ll tell you, and no corn nuts for a reward either.

I was just about worn down to a nubbin when the veterinarian ordered them to give me some R&R and new shoes.  I won’t go into all the trouble I got into during those 10 days of freedom down south.  Well, there was this little roan Mongolian filly, cute as a button, bangs and tail the color of Tennessee clay—ah me.  She couldn’t speak a word of Mule and I hadn’t learned Mongolian, but well, let’s just say we got along and leave it at that.

In 1953, three years and a couple of days from when it started, the Truce was signed in P’anmunjom and I was shipped home on a troop ship, just like one of the boys.

Old Jack was 26 years old by the time the ship docked in Oakland.  Had I been a human being, I would have had a bale of back pay coming to me.  Being an old mule, however, all I got as a reward for all my service was a small bag of corn nuts  when they mustered me out.

When it’s all said and done, I can tell you this: war’s are a bunch of horse shit, and any mule with half a brain would steer clear of armies and wars.  Personally, I’d rather pull a stone boat, or skid logs for a living than go to another war.  Well, they put me out to pasture in a place called Bright Angel to spend the remains of my days toting people down into the Grand Canyon.

If you don’t believe it, you can kiss Old Jack’s tail.


August 12, 2011

The Best Advice I Ever Gave

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 4:53 am

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

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