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Friday, August 24, 2012

Working Hard for a Dollar!

Greetings to my loyal following of readers,

We have been out of town, traveling to the northern California coast and the giant redwoods to photograph and to enjoy the much milder weather there. The locations were truly nice and comfortable, but what a roller coaster ride to get there and back.

California highways 20 and 36 have to be the most convoluted pieces of public road in existence. Most of it carved out of mountainsides with sheer drops and no guard rails. I had to laugh as I fought to maintain the roadway and saw the speed limits posted on my GPS which showed 55 mph. My laughter turned to concern quite frequently as I experienced people actually attempting to reach and exceed those limits in areas where 20 mph made us feel like we would break traction and launch into the abyss.

It is a true statement that no matter where you are in California; no matter what road, what speed limit, or how fast you are driving, there will be someone riding your rear bumper wanting to go faster. It is true at 25 mph or 75mph. Interstate or city street. I pulled over more than once to get a car off my bumper that was so close that I could not see the headlights.

The other unwritten rule, or maybe it is a California Sin... is that you must never, at any speed, allow more than a car length of space to appear between you and the car ahead of you. Not at 85 mph on I-5 or 35 mph  twisting through curving two lane mountain roads. It is practically impossible to maintain a safety zone in front of your car.

The mass of humanity on our roadways is hurtling towards record pile ups and body counts as fast as they can push their luck. It used to be better to take the back roads and avoid the traffic, but the population has increased to where the back roads are full too.

We have been busy since our return taking care of Mr S and his medical and shopping needs. His shopping is simple and really consists of wants, rather than needs. Stocking his little refrigerator with treats is the majority of it.

His medical problems can be a lot more complex as we try to keep him balanced and reasonably comfortable. Low blood pressure is our current issue as we work with doctors and nurses to find just the right combination of meds to give pain relief without causing a BP crash. Low BP will make you tired, confused, lethargic, and dizzy. It also makes getting enough oxygen to the brain a real concern as the flow drops off.

I just experienced the same issue due to a prescription for Tramadol for pain which after 3 doses (6 hours apart) caused my own BP to drop to 92/64. All I could manage to do was sit in my chair and try to breathe. Fortunately I still had enough mental acuity to realize what was wrong and stop the medication. Our older folks may not be able to defend themselves so we must be vigilant for changes.

I have been asked several times recently if I am going to Burning Man this year and the answer is no. I am not physically up to the requirements of the playa and to go anyway would be to invite trouble and be a burden on others. Such is not the way of the responsible burner. I do want to go again, but only when I can participate fully and safely.

The story for today was selected due to recent conversations about jobs for teens and pay scales. This was not my first job, nor was it the lowest paying job that I have held. It was the first one where deductions were withheld and actual time clock punching happened. I would have to say that it was also the biggest team effort outside of school sports and the most interaction that I had with adult coworkers up to this point.

The year was 1969 and you must remember that both a gallon of gas and a pack of cigarettes cost less than a quarter at the time. It took you nearly 15 minutes to earn a quarter. If you don't think that 15 minutes is a long time to work, try running in place or treading water for 15 minutes. I won't even suggest holding your breath for that long. I learned an appreciation for earning my pay, and for doing things right the first time working at this job. Read and enjoy!

Working Hard for a Dollar 

A lot of teenagers work at grocery stores and always have; it is an "entry into the workforce" kind of job and I did so back in 1969 in Hollywood, Florida. Publix Market's are the big time in Florida; like Raley's out west, or Safeway, a "Super Grocery Store" kind of establishment, that was big on selection and service. This was, of course, before the debut of Wal-Mart and their Chinese import business. In those days quality still reigned supreme.

The Publix store that I worked at had twelve check out aisles and kept them all open, all the time. I hired in at the glorious pay scale of $1.10 per hour, plus tips if you earned any (it was NOT guaranteed) and was worked like an indentured servant the entire time I worked there. My attitude was that I was working and earning money of my own and no one made me do it, so there was no reason to whine to anyone else about having to work hard.

You hire in at the "bagboy" or "bagger" position, however you want to say it, and if you stay with the company, you progress from there to stocking shelves and if you are quick fingered and nimble minded, you could end up being a checker, (the person who runs the register). If your karma is just right, or you are related to the boss, you might become an assistant manager some day. It may sound funny to some, that anyone would think to pursue a career in the grocery store business, but having a steady job (with excellent benefits for full-time employees) was not something that was sneered at in those days.

I was a bagboy, who stocked shelves or whatever else was necessary. I was taught how to bag groceries by the other more experienced baggers: don't put cans and glass together, don't put fresh hamburger packs in with flour, always pack the bag squarely with the heavy items on the bottom, double bag the ice cream. And always look your customer over to estimate how heavy that you can pack their bags. Elderly folks can handle more bags of lighter weight, much easier than packing them full in fewer bags.

As you gain experience you quickly learn who tips better: guys on their own, no question about it! Don't expect young women with little kids hanging all over them, to try and find any change, even if they could afford it, (which they generally can't), it is beyond physical expectations and not worth the time.

Older women will expect you to work like a rented mule and make stuff fit into places not designed to haul loads, and then give you a dime and then expect you to gush all over in gratitude. Many would spend the entire trip out to their car telling you stories of bad bagging experiences and tales of woe which had you sweating about how you had placed everything in her bags. I think it was some kind of sport to see just how rattled they could get the new bagboys. It worked on me the first couple of times, but I progressed rapidly in my speed and bagging skills to where I knew that what I packed would travel safely.

I have to give an awful lot of the credit to the ladies who worked as checkers. I was always nice and polite to them and did anything that they asked without hesitation, and in return they would give me tips on how to avoid errors. The very best ones would warn me about quirks of customers; like double bagging meat or ice cream, or not putting certain foods together in the same bag. A couple of the older folks rode the bus to the store and I had to pack their bags carefully to stand the trip without breaking anything thing. They couldn't afford to tip me anything but I didn't care, it was the right thing to do and it didn't cost me anything to be nice to them.

The older guys just loved it when new baggers hired on, it gave them new victims for old jokes. Like sending you from department to department for a "bag stretcher", because we are out of big bags. And when you get to the last department in the store, those guys would say, "No, we don't have the "bag stretcher", but could you go back through the departments, in the opposite order that you came to us and ask around for our "skyhook", we need to change the light bulbs on the ceiling.

Even the assistant manager got in on these gags and would tell you that he needed a specific bulb for his bagger attention board, (I never saw or heard of such a thing, but hey, he's the A.M., not me!) and have you going from department to department, all over the store asking for an I.D.10 Tango light... (think about it... IDIOT light).

These gags only happened when the Manager was gone from the store, because he would not approve of paying employees to play games and would chew the A.M. a new rear if he ever caught him participating in such frivolity. I knew that it was BS from the start, but just played along. It made for a quicker, easier acceptance if you were a good sport and let them have some fun at your expense and it didn't hurt anything. The simple fact was, you were still being paid while you wandered about the store so it was a good deal! 

Saturday's were Hell Day for me; I had to report for duty at 7:00 AM and went at it hard until we finished doing the weekly major cleaning sometime around Midnight. Seventeen hours with a half hour for lunch, and that was whenever they said to take it and be glad to get that much.

We were standing around in the cold before 7:00 a.m. one Saturday morning, waiting for the Assistant Manager to open the store, (you did not dare to be late.) The company policy was for every ten minutes past your scheduled starting time, you were docked an hour's pay. So I was always early, and most of the others were too. Nobody wanted to give up any pay if they could help it. And there was no appeal process, if you weren't clocked in you weren't there. Only the manager could write on or alter time cards and he did not have a sympathetic nature.

This particular Saturday morning, the baggers were  all on hand and ready, the stock clerks came in after us and then the checkers and the meat and produce guys came in on their own schedule and don't even say Pharmacy (they wouldn't have anything to do with us peasant grocery types).

It got to be 7:05 and no A.M. so we joked about it and nervously fidgeted around. At 7:10 still nobody. When 7:15 rolled up we were concerned and starting to worry about getting our prep work done for opening time. At 7:20 the senior bagboy went to a phone and called the secret number which must have gone directly to the Bat Cave, because by 7:25 both the Manager, (who was really not happy) and the A.M. who looked like he had been drug through a knothole were there.

As soon as the doors opened we took off through the store on the run, trying to catch up with our tasks and to be ready to open in spite of the delays; that's just the way you did things back then. It was unthinkable to even the lowliest employee (that would be me) to be late opening the doors to the customers. It just wasn't done.

The Assistant Manager went for the circuit breakers to power up everything that wasn't already running 24 hours and the Manager opened the big safe where the cash register drawers were kept and just in time because the checkers were arriving and they fussed if they had to wait. Of course with the Manager himself doing the honors, they didn't whine about anything... they just smiled and went out on the check out line and set up.

The girls who ran the registers would not go into the office with the Manager alone; there was always two or more at a time. It seems he had a "hands" problem (as one girl put it) and alone it was The Boss's word against the employee. A tough one to win in 1969.

It was to be the ugliest day of work that I had ever experienced, working for Publix Markets anyway. All morning long I was running from bagging to clean up, to taking groceries out for someone, to hauling boxes back to the crushing room, and back again. I didn't even have a chance to hit the bathroom, but the way I was sweating it didn't seem to matter.

Right after lunch the Manager returned and called the Assistant Manager into his office to deal with the lateness issue of this morning. The word had gotten around that the young fellow with management aspirations had tied one on last night and had only just got home when the panic call came. The news flash to his brain: "OH DAMN, I'M SUPPOSED TO BE AT WORK NOW!" Did not arrive in time to save his bacon. The unanswered call lead to the call to the Manager.

When the A.M. came out of the Managers office, he wasn't smiling. He no longer had a tie on and his sleeves were rolled up. Closer inspection showed that he was no longer wearing the A.M. ID badge. He had been given the choice of; No Job or returning to stocking shelves. He needed the money, so the choice was already made for him. He soon reappeared with an apron and pricing gun and went to work without so much as a whisper.

It was well known that our Manager was a religious man and a non-drinker with very little (if any) sense of humor. Errors in judgment as he saw them, were dealt with swiftly by him. I had to wonder why his chronic attempted groping of the checkout girls didn't fall into the same category. But at sixteen years old and as the most junior staff member, I kept my thoughts and opinions to myself. It was much safer that way. I did decide that I did not like the religious hypocrisy I was seeing and stayed as far away from the man as possible.

I generally steered clear of the meat department, unless I was sent there directly on a mission. Those guys were kind of secretive and definitely standoffish to put it nicely, and you didn't want to see what they were doing in their room... icky! I had grown up with a Grandfather and Uncles butchering meat in the family store, so I was not squeamish about seeing things cut up. It is what they were doing to the meat that bothered me.

Later on that same Saturday, the entire meat department was looking for employment. 

The Publix home office in Lakeland, Florida had received a signed complaint regarding improprieties in the quality of meat coming from the very store we were working at, and they took it seriously. An undercover agent was sent in without any one's knowledge, (including the Manager) and had seen with his own eyes, the date switching on out-of-date packages, the flipping of beef and repackaging, to hide freezer burn, and one of my absolute favorites; Cloroxing chicken to remove the smell of it going bad.

Why would a professional meat cutter do something like this? It's called skimming to run your own business. They were given an allowance of time for the different meats and then they replaced them as per Publix policy and Health codes. These guys found if they just re-used the old stuff, they could then take the new meat for their own business and it was all profit. It's called GREED kids.

Publix had a reputation to uphold and the Manager was raked over the coals for allowing this to go on in his store. The entire Meat Department staff was fired and told to either change professions, or states. They were not allowed to work for Publix, in any capacity or fashion and were in fact; Persona Non Grata in all of the stores forever.

That day I tore cardboard boxes apart until my hands were raw and then put them into the monster that crushed and baled them into giant, extremely heavy bales, which we then had to roll out the back door and up onto the pile that sat until the paper guy came around with his forklift and loaded them onto a big flatbed truck and hauled them away. It was kind of fun to crush the cardboard, but it was so incredibly hot in the unventilated room that I had to take my shirt and tie off and every person that came through reminded me that I must not leave the room without putting them back on. I certainly didn't have any intentions of "streaking" the store! We were recycling cardboard way before it was popular, because it saved money on disposal. Progressive company!

The afternoon was every bit as much fun; some little monster had tried to climb a shelf unit and managed to pull down a whole shelf full of mayonnaise, mustard and barbecue sauce jars. Glass jars, which shattered and splattered all over the floor and up onto the items on both sides of the aisle. It actually took shovels and trash cans to get the main part up and then hours of wiping down each item in the affected area and we found glass every day for the rest of the time that I worked there. The woman responsible for the child was speechless with embarrassment and her husband came in a few minutes later from his job to offer to pay for the damages. Today she would probably sue because the shelf wasn't strong enough to support her child or some such nonsense.

When the store finally closed for the night, the mop and bucket brigade rolled into action and the big floor scrubber (it looked like a small Zamboni) was brought out. Up and down the aisles it went, always with a crew putting down hot soapy water in front of it and cold water rinsing behind it. It had big rotating brushes similar to a buffer and would scrub the wax right off of the floor and was really good at getting into corners and up under things. It was quite the status job to be the one who operated the scrubber and it was considered off limits to junior bagboys like me. I just had to keep putting down the water and moving ahead as fast as I could to keep from getting run over.

Once the scrubber had been run on all the floor area, it was clean mopped again and another, smaller machine that looked like a buffer was used to put down a coat of liquid wax to try and protect the floor for another week. By this time I could hardly pick up my arms... I was exhausted!  

The store was checked for customers and the place pronounced clean, and we punched out at 12:00 am or there about. All of this for $1.10 per hour.

Friday, August 10, 2012

B & R Pet Shop

Greetings friends,

Another Friday has arrived and we are busy trying to finish our tasks so that we can leave for a short vacation tomorrow.

We have taken care of Mr S and shopped for his groceries, so he is set. I cleaned cages for the critters and have two yummy rats warming up for Victoria and Albert. My daughter and grandkids will check on Mikki and the water bowls for everything while we are gone. All we have left is this blog entry and Anna finishing the Mensa newsletter, the Neva-Mind.

Where are we going you say? Why to the Northern California coast to visit the Mendacino Gardens and then north to the "Ewok Forest" of Giant Redwoods. To the very spot where they filmed The Empire Strikes Back sequences with the little furry guys. All great for photography.

Anna just sent me the Neva-Mind for proofing, so I had better get on to the story quickly.

Today's tale takes place in South Florida in the middle to late 1960's. I was spending more hours at this Pet Shop than I was at home. It was a terrific experience and I met many interesting people in the industry while working there.

B & R Pet Shop: The Almost Perfect Place to Work

If you were a kid who loved animals of all kinds, like I was and still am, then you would have been thrilled to be allowed to work in a pet shop for free, like I did back in 1965.

B & R stood for Bernice and Roger, and the entire family was part of the business, although of their three children, only Tom, the oldest son, wanted to be there at all. The other two, an older sister who did not even admit to being related to people who "fooled" with animals, and a younger brother who was not 100% mentally (I don't know what is problem was) and was at home most of the time.

Roger was a small, quiet, dark haired man with a neatly trimmed beard, who never said much and was really good at handling the animals. He was very shy with customers, so much so, that many of them mistakenly thought that he didn't know anything about the creatures that he sold. They could not have been more wrong. Roger was a walking encyclopedia on fish and knew birds better than anyone that I have ever met. He was familiar with mammals and had a working knowledge of reptiles and amphibians, although he admitted that Tom and myself were better in those categories than he was. He also worked another job during the day, installing windows; small pet stores are a notoriously hard way to make a living and quite often keep their owners on the brink of "starvation" and collapse.

Bernice was the complete opposite of Roger in every way. She was tall, blonde, and voluptuous, and hated wearing clothes, (she wore as little as possible most of the time). If you had to go to their house, it could be a startling experience. If you were lucky, she was wearing a slinky dressing gown and her funny looking shoes that had high heels and a fuzzy ball on top of the toes, and sometimes one of those feather boas around her neck. Other times she would just be wearing the shoes and a smile. Both she and Roger were in their late 50's and time had not been kind with her looks, if you know what I mean. She wore more make up than a clown at the circus and it freaked me out a little. I hated it when she would hug me and get the stuff on my face and shirt.

Bernice was a showgirl from New York City and had performed in Broadway shows in the chorus lines and dancing parts, and never quite left the stage mentally (Tom said that she had a mental breakdown). She also could barely tell a dog from a cat and was no help with the animals at all. She was really fond of a gift that Roger had given her for one of their anniversaries, an Arowana fish that was silver and over 12 inches long and still growing. It lived in a 55 gallon aquarium in their living room and Bernice would dance around the room and sing to it when she got the notion to, which could be anytime, anytime at all.

Tom said that one night about 2am, he heard a commotion in the house and immediately checked his snake cages for escapees and finding that all of his deadly beauties were home, grabbed his pistol thinking that they had an intruder. It was his mother, dancing around the living room in her birthday suit, with a red feather boa around her neck, singing to the fish. He woke his father up, who slept like a rock, and Roger was able to get her to go back to bed. Life in that house was never dull.

Being the only one with a serious working knowledge of animals and business, was hard on Tom who was just 18 and finishing his senior year of high school, and spending all of his free time running the pet store. He was about 5' 9" and scrawny, but very strong, and had blond hair and blue eyes like his mother, but was quiet like his dad. His faced was scarred badly from years of severe acne which had finally gone away, but had taken their toll on his appearance and his self esteem. He could hold his own with customers and knew animals and their care so well, that other stores and even some vets would call him for advice on exotic animals. But let a girl speak to him directly, about something other than animals, and the boy couldn't function. He would stutter and look anywhere but at them and turn red, especially his ears. A couple of times I suspected that girls were coming in with their friends just to pick on Tom and make his ears turn bright red, just to see it happen and laugh at him.

Tom and I were good friends, in spite of a six year age difference, and shared a love of reptiles and no fear of animals of any kind. We spent many, many days working together in that shop, caring for the animals and discussing reptiles, snakes mostly, and learning from each other. I admired his dedication to caring for animals and saving them when they were in danger. We were called upon several times to rescue animals, or as the person calling usually said to, "Get that damn thing out of here!"

The police would call or come to the store and ask for assistance with exotics, which turned out to be reptiles mostly. They had people for dogs, cats and livestock, but those folks didn't want anything to do with snakes, monkeys, or parrots, etc. Alligators usually were handled by Fish & Game people, unless they were all tied up with other tasks, and then we would get called for that too.

At first it was all done for free, but it got to be such a habit for the city, that a deal was worked out and the store received a "Service call" fee each time we went to their rescue and took a snake out of somebody's car, or monkey off the top of their kitchen cabinets, or the occasional alligator out of their backyard swimming pool.

            Tom had a fixation with poisonous snakes and had a burning desire to own a Cobra of his very own, and may have by now, but at that time had to be content with local deadly varieties. He had Rattlesnakes, Water Moccasins and even an Eastern Coral snake, which has the same neurotoxin type of venom as the Cobra, but was actually the safest of his snakes, as they are rear-fanged and would have to bite you some place very thin, like the web between your thumb and finger and chew to get the venom into you. Not that you would treat them (Coral snakes) casually and risk what would be a potentially fatal bite.

He (Tom) was working on a plan of his own design, to build up immunities to the bite of his beloved nasties and would inject himself with minute amounts of venom regularly to build up his resistance to their poison and would increase the amount on a schedule that he had figured out. I felt like he was flirting with death myself and wanted no part of it.

A year later it "might" have saved his life when he passed out after hitting his head on an open dresser drawer and fell on an aquarium holding an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake and broke the glass, which startled the snake and it bit him on the arm, before escaping the tank and hiding under his bed. Tom always kept the door to his room closed, in case a snake got out somehow, so it couldn't get out of his room and hurt someone else or get away.

I was called upon by Tom (through Roger) to catch his pet and put it in a new tank, since he was in the hospital for a few days recovering from surgery, not from the snake bite, his plan had worked,(maybe, or maybe he got a dry bite). They had to stitch up his head where he banged it, and repair tendons and muscles cut by the broken aquarium glass on his right forearm. He was very lucky to have survived any of it at all.

The store had a few displays and attractions that were there more for show than for sale, although that was not the plan when they acquired these creatures. It is a hazard frequently encountered in the pet store business.

            One display that was bought for the sole purpose of showing and was carefully watched, was their Piranha tanks. One small tank had a single, large red-bellied Piranha in it and the other had six fish in residence. The single fish was timid and you "could" put your hand in the tank with it, and it wouldn't bite unless you chased it around and cornered it. The tank with six in it was a different story altogether! Anything that went into that tank would not come out the same as it went in. You couldn't even use a dip net to retrieve something from the tank, they would destroy it right before your eyes. You had to put a piece of glass in the tank and block them off completely and then put your hand in and pick out whatever it was that some idiot customer had tossed in the tank, "Just to see what would happen..." DUH! People can be so stupid sometimes! Even with the glass in between, it still scared hell out of me to stick my hand in there and have them hit that glass! It made us all flinch when those little buzz-saws with razor blade teeth bit at the glass.We tried not to show it though, because it made the customers (usually young males) want to do it again. And yes, there was a top on the tank, but people would open it to drop things in.

Another purchase that was a special order, and never picked up or paid for by the customer, was an African Green Monkey. This guy was generally well behaved and we got along really well all the time. In fact he was so calm and well mannered that he was allowed out of his cage and would sit on top of it or on one of the padded bar stools that was behind the counter and just eat peanuts or monkey chow pellets or the occasional piece of fruit, (he was usually fed that inside his cage because it was messy).

He would pick up his shells and anything else that was on the floor and hand it to one of us, just like a small child that was trying to be helpful. And he was large for a monkey, about the size of a two year old human baby, but not as heavy. This made it difficult to sell him, because people were afraid of him.

It would seem that he was the perfect pet and good will ambassador for the store except for one little bad habit that we found out about the hard way. He hated black people, especially black boys, and would scream and carry on until one of us would go over and pick him up and comfort him. We figured that it had to do with his memories of being captured in Africa and didn't know how to cure him of this phobia.

We found out what happened if black boys didn't heed his warning and walked towards him, especially if they were loud and laughing. He would reach back behind himself and go to the bathroom in his hand and throw an underhand fastball strike directly to their chests, dead center on the heart every time! If we could only have taught him to throw a baseball instead. He would have thrown a perfect splitter, instead of a messy shi... Oh, never mind.

Among the interesting side activities associated with the Pet business were the trips to the airport and Port Everglades to pick up shipments of animals. The Importer we bought from at the port had a huge warehouse and every kind of animal you could think of came through there. It was there that I learned how mean adult chimpanzees are. A careless worker parked a big cage containing hundreds of squirrel monkeys next to a grown chimp and he grabbed them by the tail as they poked out through the bars and yanked them through a space that was way too small, with the predictable disastrous results. By the time I saw what he was doing there was quite a pile of squirrel monkey skins. All just for meanness.
This was also the place where I saw my first Brazilian Wandering Spider and saw someone get bit by one. It was really scary! I learned at that establishment that if you had enough money, you could have anything you wanted, legal or not. The people were more frightening than the animals by far.

Once Tom got himself in a big mess and was about to go to jail for refusing to obey draft orders. He believed that killing another human being was wrong and he could not be part of that. He was one of the very few real Conscientious Objectors that I had ever known. Remember the pistol that he carried out of his bedroom to check for burglars? He didn't even own any bullets! It was a bluff! He could have gotten his snake kissing butt killed, carrying an unloaded gun!

Tom was color blind and deaf in one ear, and had that damaged right arm and could have gotten a draft deferment, but he wanted to make a statement and stand up for his beliefs, not hide behind his infirmities as he put it. So he defied the order to report for processing and went before the judge and had his say and was sentenced to jail time, and fully intended to serve his time. His dad wanted him to go to Canada and continue with his schooling and be safe, (he was afraid of what might happen to him in prison). But Tom wouldn't do it, he wanted to make his stand and be counted.

I always respected Tom for his Integrity and never looked upon him as anything but a brave, intelligent young man standing up for what he believed in, even after I went into the Army and did the things that he wouldn't and couldn't do.

Don't get me wrong, I didn't feel the same way at the time as he did, and I certainly am proud of my fellow Veterans who served their country then, and now as well. But both Tom and I had to have the courage of our convictions and do what we felt was right.

After all these years of thinking about it, I think that what he did took more courage than what I faced in armed confrontation with an enemy. He had to face people that he cared about, family and friends, and deal with their attitudes face to face, every day, at a time where it was considered to be un-American to refuse to serve.

So, what happened? Tom served 30 days (as a privileged trustee) in the Broward County jail for disobeying the judge, during which time he was medically disqualified from service (4F) and the matter was dropped. He was mad that it didn't go to trial and make more of an impact regarding CO's but, we were all glad that he didn't get "real" time, in a "real" prison where he would have gotten hurt.

Roger eventually had to hire a couple of full time employees. He needed to replace me and with Tom being gone for the 30 days and Bernice getting worse, it was a real stretch to stay open, but he managed to do it. Having three members that were basically useless, made life very hard in a family run business.

They lasted several more years but were gone by the mid-1970's when I was in Florida and went by to check on them. It was certainly the friendliest, most helpful Pet Store that I have ever encountered and a well run small business. I often wonder what Roger could have done with an even chance.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Into the Arena

Saturday early morning greetings to all.

I tried to get this out before the clock struck midnight but I just couldn't do it. No worries though really, I know that y'all don't care, it is just another of my self-imposed things.

The past week has been filled with finally being able to purchase and then use the grout for the sun room tile floor project. Yes, the cracks are now filled in, 8 months later! That is what spending every waking moment working on the Reno AG does for you. Your entire life gets put on hold.

My grandsons Nicholas and Chase helped me, mixing the grout and then crawling the floor, tile by tile, pushing grout into the cracks and then the worst part by far... trying to clean the stuff off of the once shiny floor! Between the boys, myself and Anna, we have spent more than double the installation time cleaning the floor. Probably three times the number of hours.

We suggest that rather than the traditional method of slopping a gob of grout down and then shoving it back and forth with a rubber trowel, it would be smarter, and certainly cleaner, to utilize a caulking gun and whatever form of grout you can find, or even caulk, to fill the spaces between the tiles.

I still have baseboard tile, a facing of the step, and four window ledges to go before we can call the sun room tile job complete. If you want something done in a hurry, you must hire the professionals and pay the price.

The grass is also taking on that "lost in the jungle" look, so I will need to deal with that too.

Today we had to take Mr S to lunch and then the doctor, followed by my own appointment. We finished lunch too early, so we had to stall so that we would not be in the waiting room too long. Mr S gets really impatient and fusses every few minutes about how long it is taking, usually well before his appointment time even. The ride in the countryside worked out well and our timing was good. He still grumbled, and they were within 5 minutes of his scheduled time. Too bad the lab tests we had done did not meet with the approval of the specialist, who ended the appointment early and told us to come back after we got the right tests done.
If the doctors would speak in the same medical language to each lab and hospital, then everyone would know which tests are wanted on their orders. Ridiculous extra confusion!

My own visit was simple. My BP was 116/59 and we are in a wait mode until the VA and Reno Open Air MRI agree on another date for my left shoulder MRI, get it done and then get the results back to the potential surgeon who wants to fix my damage. Or at least collect the money for it. I am not sure that he cares one way or the other if he fixes anything. He seems to be very impressed with himself. Maybe that is just the way of ortho guys.

Today is feeding day for Victoria and Albert, but I want to weigh them first to get a baseline for their growth. This should have been done two feedings ago, but I didn't have a scale sensitive enough to weigh them then. They should also have their length measured, but that is a squirmy proposition too. I think it will take three of us to get an accurate measurement.

The stories offered up in this edition are good evidence for why I did not pursue a career in Professional Rodeo, even though I did pretty well for several years and didn't get killed. I got tenderized, broke several bones, and was knocked out multiple times, yet still considered myself having fun. It is the insanity of youth.
Of course moving away from my rodeo mates did put a serious crimp in things too. Enjoy the ride!

Into the Arena

These events took place just after the Orange Blossom Festival Rodeo in 1969, which heralded the beginning of rodeo season in South Florida. The crowds were hungry for action and sometimes the promoters would bend the rules a little... or a lot, depending on how desperate they were to increase the "gate". It was definitely a case of let the riders beware, you must defend yourself at all times.

I was one of several young bull riders that were competing, trying to win for the joy of winning. The purse wasn't much in those days, you had to really like what you were doing to take that much abuse. After you paid an entry fee, for the privilege of getting stomped, or busted up, (all in the name of fun, right?) you wouldn't have much cash left to eat on, or travel to the next rodeo.

It really was fun to us, how else do you think that you would ever get teenagers to do something that took so much work and effort? There was prestige that went with being the best, beating guys older and more experienced, and most importantly to me; beating 2,000 pounds of angry bull. A creature which often came equipped with horns to gore you and an attitude filled with hate for the guys who climbed on his back, even if it was for just a few seconds at a time.

The stock promoter and rodeo promoter were the same person in our little community of Davie, Florida, except when it was a Nationally sanctioned event, (RCA, PRCA,etc.) and then they had to play by a different set of rules to comply with the "big time".

Our promoter was a man by the name of R. D. (name removed to protect the guilty). We never had much to do with him personally, just his cowboys and stock wranglers. He did have some of the rankest, nastiest, evil tempered bovine creatures to ever stand on four legs, and that I can attest to personally!

We bull riders would "clown" for each other during these small rodeos, and we took the job very seriously. Bull riders could get badly hurt and possibly killed in such a short space of time, that indifference or a lapse of attention could be the final act. None of us wanted to let a fellow rider down, and so, worked as hard at clowning as we did riding the bulls, sometimes harder. If I got hurt riding, it was no big deal to me, you have to expect it. But if someone else got hurt when I was in the arena as his protector (clown), that would be inexcusable to me.

There are two individual rides, on two different bulls that I would like to tell you about. Neither would put me in the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma, and that's for sure. They did however, imprint themselves indelibly on my memory for life, if not longer, and illustrate just how crazy the sport can be.


Some of you are fans of rodeo, and some could care less, but let me tell you about a large, ugly, red Brahma bull called "Red Dirt". He was aptly named for his disposition, into the dirt of the arena, of would be riders, and in short order usually. Very few had successfully ridden him to the buzzer, however I had, the only other time that I "drew" him in the lottery, or bull selection process. I believe that he never forgot me, or forgave me either. I think that somehow these big, supposedly stupid, bovine warriors, had a sense of pride or something similar; because they hated to get ridden to the buzzer with a passion, and would seemingly be out to get even afterward, for as long as it took to do so. Much like a polar bear.

If I could repeat my luck with this bull, I would surely score high and conceivably win the event. Forget the all-around, you have to do other events to qualify, and it was all I could do to manage one. After I drew Red Dirt I was alternately congratulated and consoled by my fellow riders. They joked around so much, that it was impossible to take them serious about anything. If one of them said that their butt was on fire, throw the water... I would say, "show me the fire first."

But there I was, trying my best to recall everything that I could about how he behaved and what his "trademark" characteristics were; whether he hooked and twisted, etc. What I managed to do mostly, was make myself nervous. For me what worked best was to let it go and relax; just handle what the bull does while you're there. The one thing that I couldn't get out of my mind, was that he was a proven cowboy hater. Meaning that throwing you off of his back was not the "end of it" with him, he wanted his "pound of flesh" too.

I had drawn a number three ride in the first go around and I was pretty happy about that, I didn't have to go first when the judges were at their worst as far as scoring goes, but yet I didn't have to wait "forever" either.
My bull rope was as worked and sticky as I could get it, and my gloves had just the right feel. As I stood behind the chutes watching the first two guys getting ready, waiting for a little less congestion up over the animals, trying to keep everything as safe as possible, I saw something that I didn't believe, and would not have suspected from this outfit. They were "hot-shotting" the bulls out of the gate!

What that means, is that the people promoting the rodeo, in order to get an even more "lively" jump out of the chute, (all to please the audience) were shocking the bulls with electric cattle-prods to make them "shoot " out of the gate with a big crowd pleasing jump. This is a major "NO, NO". It is against the rules of all of the organizations, and just wasn't supposed to be done.

While I was deep in thought, my turn came up and I had to scramble up the back of the #3 chute and try to get straddled over this already angry beast. When I did get down onto his back, we played "climb the chute" for a little while, with him acting like he was going to climb out of there and me trying to protect my knees. When he finally settled down, it really made me start to worry. I was used to seeing him angry.

The entire time that I was trying to get ready to come out of the gate for my ride, the announcer was maintaining a steady flow of BS, about how bad this bull was and how much he hated cowboys, and how I was one of the few to ever successfully ride Red Dirt. I could have done without that, it was bad luck to say things like that.

I was finally situated and ready and asked for the gate. I could feel the muscles in the bull's back tensing up and quivering, ready to explode into violent action any second now.

It was then that I felt a sharp, painful burning sensation on my leg. The next thing that I knew, I was flying through the air and landed face first in the freshly watered arena dirt, thinking "Oh God, I hope this is freshly watered"... it was not. Reality began screaming in my brain saying, where is that cowboy hating bull? He's going to kill me lying here in the dirt! I jumped up and turned around looking for Mister Red Dirt, ready to defend myself with all of the clowning skills that I had learned.

The big red bull was still standing in the chute; just standing there, with my bullrope on him, and my glove securely wrapped into it... right where I left it.

This was a supreme moment of victory for the bull; as I stood there in a ready position with my legs spread apart, and my hands out, like a wrestler, waiting... with fresh cow patty on my face and shirt front.

Then that damned bull just calmly walked out of the chute and right past me, without even acknowledging my existence. Well almost; as he passed me he raised his tail and adding a new supply of "cowboy targets" to the arena. Insult added with great style to the injury!

The crowds at rodeos are there more to see things go wrong, than witness a good ride. I firmly believe this. This crowd was laughing so hard that I hope they all wet their pants!

From the instant that the gate opened and I got "hot-shotted" out of the chute (without benefit of a bull under me) flying to a landing face first in cow crap; then jumping up to defend myself, from nothing; to the bull with a reputation for attacking cowboys,walking past me without a look, to the final comment, with his tail in the air. It was better than a scripted comedy movie.

Well, if a Brahma Bull could have a more complete payback for getting rode, I sure don't want to be part of it. Once was enough for me... more than enough.


The names didn't always mean anything special about the animal, sometimes the person who named it just thought it sounded cool. That was the case with "Purple People Eater". It is true that he did develop into a very ornery bull over time, but he didn't start out that way.

I had seen this behemoth of a Brahma bull around for ages, and couldn't seem to draw him for anything. I wanted to, he was a money bull if you could stay with him. But therein lies the rub. He was over two thousand pounds of coal black muscle, with a hump that was so large that it came up chest high when you were sitting on his back. Not that you had much chance to view the scenery while the ride was in motion!

Besides being very large, he had a strange horn configuration; one turned up and the other side turned down. These horns were also of longer length than I was happy with (as if that mattered). The promoters all liked him because he looked like an ominous monster, yet he was easy to handle outside of the arena proper. Meaning that loading him in the trailer or shuffling him from pen to pen was easy, he was not hateful like Red Dirt or others.

When I first "met" this critter he was in the holding pen out by the offloading ramp, which was probably 100 feet from the back of the chutes and separate from everything else. He was a pussycat. Just as calm and easy going as could be, with no hint of malice about him at all. I fed him apples on several occasions, and wondered what a sweet guy like him was doing in this business.

And then I got to see the transformation that came over him when he entered the "playing field", up close and personal. I clowned for a friend who drew his Royal Largeness; The People Eater, and OH Boy did that bull ever like to hit! I learned to love that barrel and we lost more dummies to him, than all of the rest combined. He was exciting to watch; preferably from outside the wire!

I knew (at least I hoped) that I would get lucky some day, and someday finally arrived! I drew the one and only Purple People Eater, but a so-so spot, number 7 out of 8 riders. The big bull would be fired up from all the sights and smells of being right next to the chutes and I would be a nervous wreck waiting, knowing that he was getting more excited by every sound of the chutes opening.

I kept telling myself that if you want a good ride, you have to have a good bull; but it didn't help, I knew what he was like in the arena or I thought that I did.

An older cowboy came along and stopped for minute, next to me where I was standing, staring at the PPE. After a few moments of shared silent understanding and respect for our opponent, he offered this advice, "he hooks to the left when you get off, trying to get you... watch him." OK, great, thanks. He looked trustworthy enough, and I didn't know him, so he shouldn't be trying to get back at me for anything that I had done to him. I hope. Cowboys can be merciless when it comes to jokes and tricks, it was hard to tell what was true or real.

I processed the advice and thought to myself; the left side was the "down" horn, that's good, he can't spear you with that one.

A couple of rides gone bad later, and I was nervous all over again. One rider had just gotten a "tour" of the arena when he got dumped (bucked off) and his hand wouldn't come out of the rope. The clown and the pick up man were on him right away, and then all of us who clowned went after them and finally managed to pull his hand free. Damned fool had used a "suicide" wrap, which was a method of wrapping the bullrope around your hand, to where it was in effect, tied. Sure it didn't slip, but you could get killed very easily too.

Two rides before, the guy got kicked in the forehead and they couldn't seem to wake him up. His pulse was fine, as were all the other indicators.... but he just wouldn't, or couldn't, respond to anything. It was scary at the time although he did make a full recovery. (Now I would have even more concern over what damage was done with what we have learned about brain trauma.)

It was finally my turn on the Merry-go-round!

The Purple People Eater just stood in the chute expectantly, and twitched his huge muscles when he was touched, like we were annoying horseflies and he could shake us off; which wasn't too far from the truth. I got down onto him and got my rope pulled up and wrapped my hand very carefully, remembering the last ride all too clearly and not wanting to repeat that trick.

I was settled in deep, right up snug against that monstrous hump and asked for the gate. Out we went, together and at the same time! He was really putting on a show for the crowd; the gyrations and contortions that this huge animal could make his body do, were simply amazing. This monster bull would get all four feet in the air, with his front legs pointed one way and his hind legs pointed the opposite and then snap his head around and make his whole body change directions in mid air!

The really bizarre thing was that I was staying with him on every jump and twist and I made it to the buzzer. Hot Damn! I remembered the old cowboy telling me that he hooked to the left; so I slid off the right side and was briefly very proud of myself as I landed on my feet. That is, until he hit me with that upturned right horn and cracked three ribs.

I was knocked for a flying loop, and rolled up onto my feet and took off running for the fence, with the PPE Express breathing right onto my back as I ran. I timed my jump and grabbed the 2 X 6 top rail and should have gone right on up and over, just like I had done many times clowning. But it was not to be. The board broke off and I landed on my back in what was described to me as the dying cockroach position, with the board still firmly clutched in both hands. The bull was as surprised as I was, (fortunately for me), and I got up and swung that board as hard as I could, right across the nose of the Purple People Eater. I gained enough time to make good my escape while he stood there sneezing, and trying to figure out what had just happened to him.

Later I took him an apple and fed it to him out in the pen, through the fence of course, just in case. He was fine and docile again, and I thanked him for not killing me, and apologized to him for whacking him with a board. I think that he understood. I never had occasion to ride him again and I hope that he got to retire and breed some more little Purple People Eaters for future generations to experience. He was a great one!