Music To His Ear

Speaking of that armored truck experience….

I have another fond memory of working there.  It involves a joker whose name was Mike.  You’ve heard the term “putting someone down”?  He had quite the knack for putting someone down without actually putting someone down.  Hmmm….follow that?  I hope so.  Between that and being a practical joker, he had quite the reputation around our branch.  You could depend on him, though, when the job got stressful, so overall he was a good guy to have around.

Needless to say, though, when I saw an opportunity to take advantage of–I took it.  Such as the following (this process at this armored truck branch  is no longer done this way since this happened, so I’m not breaching a security measure by sharing this with you):

At one time, our weapons (which were semi-automatics) were kept locked up in the break room.  They were in lockboxes on a hand cart.  Next to the gun rack was a clearing barrel.  It was a large square tube of thick metal, about waist-high,  with a wide heavy base that had sand in it on one end of the square tube and thick rubber on the other end.  The rubber was cut criss-cross so that you could put the barrel of your gun into it while you loaded or unloaded the weapon (this would protect you and those around you if your gun accidentally discharged while you were loading or unloading it).  The square tube was mounted on the base at an angle towards the user so that all you had to do was lean forward a little and the end of your gun barrel was through the rubber and inside the tube.  We each had a key to our own gun lockbox, so once we had our duty belts on, we would get our gun, put the barrel of it into the clearing barrel, put the magazine in (this is what holds the rounds) and rack a round into the chamber.  Once that was done, we holstered the weapon.

Some of us had containers and big heavy-duty bags that we used for carrying…stuff….and Mike was one who kept those things along the wall of the break room where the gun rack was kept.  He usually kept his stuff against  the wall between the gun rack and the clearing barrel.  Well, I walked into the break room one morning just as he was holstering his weapon.  I was heading for the gun rack for my own gun as he walked away from that area of the room.  It was then that I realized he would be going for his stuff against the wall at any time.  If I timed things right, I would find myself very amused.  So as I got my gun from the gun rack and stood in front of the clearing barrel getting ready to load my gun, I was watching him out of the corner of my eye.  He was now approaching his stuff against the wall, which happened to be immediately to my left.  As he bent down for his things that were against the wall, I had the barrel of my gun in the clearing barrel and had just finished nonchalantly inserting the magazine.  The angle of him bending down resulted in his head being about even with the clearing barrel.  So it was then that I chambered a round.

Nothing makes you freeze in your tracks faster than hearing the  “CHAchink!” of a cartridge entering the barrel of a gun that’s a foot away from your ear.  Mike froze.  Didn’t move a muscle.  For a couple of seconds that hung suspended in time, he slowly moved his eyes to his right.  When he saw what was happening and that there wasn’t actually a gun pointed at his head, I saw him visibly relax.  It was then that he began to see the humor in what had just happened.  I, on the other hand, saw it the whole time.  If you ask me, his reaction was the sign of a guilty conscience.  Regardless, it sure made for a lasting memory!  At least with me….


The Gun Range Incident

Do you remember me mentioning the armored truck company that I used to work for?  Something about breakdancing, as I recall….

Since we carried firearms on a daily basis, the state required us to requalify at the gun range every year.   Our permits to carry on the job were only good for a year, but that date varied for each one of us. In spite of that fact, most of us jumped through those hoops within a two-month period of time.  That meant that every year between November and January the secretary was forever trying to get everyone scheduled for requalifying before their permits to carry expired.  And under no circumstances were we to forget when our year was up!  If one of us let it slip, his or her name was moved to the top of the “black list” and he or she was grounded to the office until another “requal” class could be attended, which was sometimes weeks away.

For us, these classes were outside (which meant that if you were caught in a December or January class, you were probably one of the oh-crap-my-permit-is-about-to-expire people taking the class).  So, needless to say, I usually tried to get in on one of the earlier Fall classes.  These classes were open to more than just armored truck employees, too.  These other people who attended usually worked for local security companies.  So it was at one of these mixed classes I was attending one year that a hilariously unbelievable incident occurred.

Our HR department–Gary was his name–was also our firearms instructor and often took the role of the gun range instructor when we all had to requalify.  He was the instructor on that fateful day.  I need to tell you that some of the security company people were…um…old.  Old as in thinking, “They actually let you carry a firearm??” old.  Their guns were just plain old revolvers in even older leather holsters that seemed to hang down to their knees.  (I felt like I was just waiting for one of them to walk up to me all bow-legged, stand there and stare at me while they spit chaw out of the side of their mouth and say, “This here gun range ain’t big ‘nough fer the both of us.  DRAW!!”).  Well, one of these “youth challenged” individuals was an old lady.  I watched many a requal class come and go where the instructor worked time and again with this woman to get her to barely pass so that she could carry for another year.  This time was no different. Except for what happened next!

Gary had shooters on the line, and she was one of them.  He gave his instructions and finished by saying, “Shooters ready?  Fire!”  Everybody shot but her.  She just stood there watching everyone else shoot.  She eventually took her gun out of the holster as everyone else finished up and pointed it down-range.  But she didn’t fire it!  Gary was behind and to the right of all the shooters on the line.  When he saw this, he asked her what she was doing.  When she eventually realized he was speaking to her, her body language said, “Huh??” as she turned towards him with her gun still pointing ahead of her!  If there was a roof to hit at an outdoor gun range, Gary would have hit it.  As she turned with her gun pointing at him, he yelled, “What are you doing?!  Holster that weapon!!”, as his arms flailed about and everyone else hit the deck.  He then proceeded to rip her a new one as he got her back in position with her gun down-range again.  He gave her his instructions again–at a much faster rate of speed with an increase in volume to match–and said, “Fire!”.  She just stood there.  He said, “Fire!” again, only louder.  She turned and looked at Gary, then turned and looked down-range again at the target.  She drew her weapon this time. Then, upon finding another roof to hit, Gary yelled, “I SAID FIRE!!!”.  She eventually got a shot off.  Then another.  She may have even hit the target.

I looked at Gary and  noticed his hair looked thinner.  But only where his hands had been gripping his head in frustration.  Then I looked at his feet.  There was hair strewn all over the ground in front of him and he still had a death grip on another small clump of it in each of his hands (I also noticed that his hair had turned several shades lighter and quite suddenly at that).  His eyes looked coal-black as he bored holes with them into the old woman’s head.  I think he was even talking to himself, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying from where I was.  Probably just as well….

She didn’t pass that day.  In fact, we never saw her again at any other requal class.  Maybe she decided to retire.

The Biting Bullet

My Dad was almost a doctor.  In fact, he was just his thesis away from becoming one.  It was then that he came to the conclusion that he really didn’t want to pursue that profession, changing his major and pursuing his desire to be a teacher instead.  He loved sports, though–especially any sport that involved his alma mater:  Michigan State University–and that eventually led to his moonlighting as a referee and umpire, mostly for high school football, basketball and softball.  As a result of these two factors, I think my Dad had a certain level of “sports medicine” knowledge that he was able to incorporate over the years.

This, I believe, was reflected in his first-aid kit that he always kept in his vehicle.  It was one of those old metal army ammo cases with a lid that swings up on one hinge, painted white with a red cross on both sides of it (a friend of his had made it for him way back when).  He had everything in this thing!  And I remember him having to use it with my brother and I more than once while growing up.  But nothing he had anywhere else in his arsenal of first-aid gadgetry could compare to what we called “The Biting Bullet”.

The Biting Bullet was actually kept in the house.  Whenever there was a scraped-up knee or elbow or a cut that wasn’t too deep, just hearing the words, “Guess we need to get out the Biting Bullet!” would bring instant trepidation.  It didn’t matter who had the cut or the scrape.  Of course, whichever one of us wasn’t the injured party came running because they wanted to see the antics that were about to play out.  The Biting Bullet was a spray can with a silhouette picture of an athlete running on the front of it.  It had some long medical name on its front for what was in it, but that didn’t matter to my brother and I.  The only thing that concerned us was the fact that this stuff was like electricity in a spray can.  And as a kid, that’s all that counts.  It doesn’t matter what reality is; it’s what a kid’s perception of it is that makes up his world.  And when it came to treating a wound, our world had an evil nemesis that manifested itself whenever the Biting Bullet was used.

My Dad would always shake the can real good, all the while talking to the poor, innocent, wounded child (me) or the guilty, convicted, wound-deserving offspring (my brother) of how this was going to hurt him more than the one being treated and other such nonsensical gibberish that emits from a parent who is thoroughly enjoying an opportunity such as this to torment his or her children.  Whichever one of us it was would sit there on the toilet, tense and braced for the inevitable sting of this spray that looked like pee, while Dad talked and everyone else around  was in generally high spirits as they waited for the spectacle to unfold.  (All that was missing was a concession stand and an announcer:  “Ladies and gentlemen, while you wait for the unfortunate demise of this poor waif, a concession stand with items such as soft pretzels, hummus and lox & bagels is available in the lower level for your convenience.”)  I know my Dad stretched that prep time out as long as he could–or at least as long as Mom would let him.  It was inevitable that eventually the injured boy would be laughing with everyone else about what was happening–until he suddenly felt stinging electricity jolting through his injury, only to realize all too late that the Biting Bullet had struck again.  No amount of blowing on it helped either.  And sometimes a second and third application was “necessary”.  Yeah.  Right, Dad.  Sure.  Gotta protect against those germs and infection, right?  Uh-huh.  Thanks.

Would you believe I kept that can until well after I was married?  I’ve got memories of these tragic events happening as early as four or five years old.  I got married when I was thirty.  So how many years is that?  My wife finally threw it away (unbeknownst to me).  Who knows what the expiration date was on that can?  All I knew was it still stung after all these years, so that must mean that it still works, right?  I guess now I’ll never know.  It’s been gone for quite a few years now.  Now I can’t show my boys what that was like.


Grandma’s Horseradish

Remember the town I told you about that I grew up in?  (In case you don’t, just type “Bath” in the Search bar and you’ll read about it.)  Remember the story of watching the volunteer firefighters at my Grandparents’ house?  They were my Dad’s parents and lived about a mile away from us.  My Mom, my brother and I would often walk or ride our bikes up to their house.  We did that a lot through the summer months.

They had a small garden in the back of their yard and grew a variety of things–one of them being horseradish.  Now, if you’ve never had horseradish before, it is a preferred taste.  Horseradish is actually a root that has no smell to it until it’s cut open.  Once that’s done,  however, you’d better be wearing a gas mask, because the aroma will burn the hairs right out of your nose as it makes its way into your sinuses.  It’s a great way to clear your nasal passages if you’re fighting a cold!  But it has to be homemade to work like that (the sissy stuff that you find in the store next to the ketchup is hardly worth calling “horseradish”).

I have never particularly cared for the taste of this decadent condiment, but my Dad absolutely loved it–but only my Grandma’s homemade stash.  This stuff was so strong that you could stand on the other side of the kitchen with your eyes closed and simply let your olfactory senses warn you that they are being assaulted by a jar of this burnin’-hunk-a-somethin’ that someone has had the gall to open on the other side of the room.  My Dad would eat this straight out of the jar, a big smile on his face as his nose would begin to run like a sieve.  He lived for late summer when the time for making homemade horseradish was nigh upon us.  More like nigh upon my Grandma, who didn’t seem a bit bothered by the overwhelming aroma that always emitted from her kitchen when making it.

We always steered clear of their place for a few days when we knew she was in the middle of this annual assault on the senses.  But that didn’t always work.  One day, the three of us decided we’d walk/ride up to Grandma and Grandpa’s house unannounced–beautiful day, nice breeze, perfect for being outdoors, right?  When we got up there, though, we found out that she was in the middle of making a batch of this homemade horsey-sauce.  My Mom told us both to stay outside (because the aroma was so strong in the kitchen that she figured it would drive us right back out anyway), so we rode our bikes around in the driveway.  It wasn’t but a few minutes later that we heard a very strange and unnerving sound emanate from Grandma’s kitchen.  It was something between a whoop! and a scream and it was coming from Mom!  We came off our bikes at a full run and bolted into Grandma’s kitchen, only to see Mom standing at the counter, her hands up to her nose and tears in her squeezed-shut eyes as she stood there laughing.  For some reason known only to herself and God, she thought she would take the top off of one of the jars of horseradish and take a whiff.  To the best of my knowledge, she only did that once.  It was at that moment that I vowed I would never touch a jar of that Dad-beloved, nasal-hating sauce in my life!