Saturday, March 7, 2009

Toby and Ozymandias

A lot of things go through a man's head when he's standin on the wrong side of a barbed wire fence in his skivvies lookin down the barrel of a couple of toy poodles. The first of those things, in my experience at least, I don't wanna pose like I'm speakin for everyone here, is that it's kinda cold outside. I'm standin out there gettin them bumpy things all over my legs so it looks like I got myself a set of chicken legs, only bigger. So maybe it looks like I got a set of ostrich legs, except my knees is the right way round. Right way round for me, that is, not for an ostrich. Though if my legs was the right way round for an ostrich, I might be able to run my way outta this situation faster. The only problem with that is that them dogs got one set of legs the right way round for a man and one set right way round for an ostrich, so they got an advantage over each. I know you're sittin there thinkin, "But Pat, there's no way a toy poodle is gonna out run an ostrich" and I'd tell ya, under normal circumstances, you'd be right. But these ain't normal circumstances. Let me tell you a bit about the dogs I was facin in that compound.

First of all, one of them dogs is named Toby and the other is named Ozymandias. When they was just little puppies, just barely past openin their eyes, their mom saw a wild streak in Toby and drove him out of the litter before he devoured the rest of his brothers and sisters. But little Toby had a soft spot in his heart for his brother Ozymandias for reasons known only to himself. I always thought it was because of the great name, but I got no evidence to back myself up there. So, with their mother's blessing and insistence, Toby and Ozymandias lit out for the territories. They spent some time on the street, lookin cute for money, cleanin windows when they needed, and slowly driftin towards a life of crime. That didn't last long; three, maybe four hours at the outside. In that time, they'd become hardened and jaded by all the horrible things they'd seen and done. Killin a man and eatin him in desperation does funny things to puppies; and not funny ha-ha stuff. They were veterans of the street by early evening when they were picked up by Texas Jake, the ostrich farmer.

Now the name Texas Jake is a bit of a misnomer, bein as he was named Phil and he was actually from Delaware. But you try gettin anywhere in the ostrich farmin business with a name like "Delaware Phil". The ostrich business is all about respect and no self-lovin ostrich respects a man with a state north of the Mason-Dixon line in his name. Phil tried to change his name to Texas Phil, but there was already three Texas Phils in the ostrich farmin business and one lived a block away from Phil, so he really had to change both his names. After a quick trip to the courthouse to officially change his name to Texas Jake, he stumbled upon a couple of toy poodle puppies that was adorable on the outside but had the cold gleam of killers in their eyes. He knew these two pups would be perfect ostrich wranglers, so he scooped 'em up in a burlap bag and went on his way.

Over the next couple of years, the tiny pups grew into two slightly less tiny dogs. Texas Jake used to like to describe them as fifty pounds of danger in a five pound sack. Sometimes he would drink a little much and snatch the dogs up in that same burlap bag so he could tell himself he had fifty pounds of danger in a five pound sack in another five pound sack. He would laugh and laugh at this until Toby and Ozymandias chewed their way out of the sack and set to work on his ankles. The only way he could calm them down was to share his whiskey. The booze got right to the heart of the little dogs, makin' 'em even meaner than they'd been before. That meanness was a boon in the ostrich farmin business because ostriches themselves are right ornery creatures and dumb as a bag of hammers to boot. From what I hear, wranglin ostriches would be like if you took that guy down on the corner, you know that one that did a little too much in the 60s and now just ain't never gonna be right again. Take that guy, hit him in the head a couple of times to dumb him up even more, then shoot him full of steroid so he gets mad at everything all the time and then hand him a couple of sabers. Now replicate that guy about a thousand times and you got a typical day on an ostrich farm. In this kinda situation, them little dogs grew up to be fast, smart and meaner than a fat girl that can't remember where she hid the cookies from herself.

This worked in their favor. The meaner they got, the better they were at wrangling ostriches. Eventually, they just had to glace sideways at one of the big, dumb birds to get it to run wherever they wanted it to go. They even learned how to rope, which is quite a feat when you ain't got no thumbs. I knew this cowboy once that'd lost both thumbs in a bet in some back alley in Bankok who still tried to rope. He could usually get within five feet of the sheep he was ropin in he had a couple buddies holdin it still for him and someone got the rope goin for him. It wasn't practical for him, but it was fun as the dickens to watch. These toy poodles could rope better than any man after some practice. The secret, so I hear, was that they'd pretend they was ropin their mother's heart so she'd let them come home again. It was either that or they just really hated ostriches.

After three years of livin a comfortable life with Texas Jake, the brothers felt it was time for them to hit the ol' dusty trail again, so they hopped a train and rode the rails for a bit. They got hooked up with some nasty people and, after spendin six months in the pen on a smash and grab, they decided to lay low for a bit. They spotted a Russian circus that was in town that'd been advertisin a new bear wrangler after their last one got a little too far into a bottle of vodka one night and mistook the bear for his coat. When Toby and Ozymandias showed up for the job, the owner of the circus just laughed. By the time they got the bear to cry, he'd stopped laughin. After they'd got the bear to play Air on a G string on the piano, even though the bear hated Bach and all things associated with it, Toby and Ozymandias had a job for all the kibble they could eat.

They spent 4 years with the circus, travelling all over the world, seein and doin things most toy poodles only dream of. Toby and the bear got along real well, and forged a great relationship. Ozymandias, on the other hand, didn't want to get too close to an animal they may be forced to put down one day. This put a serious strain on the brothers' relationship, especially during their tour of China. Toby and the bear spent their nights in the famous oriental opium dens, falling deeper under the influence of the poppy. The final split came one night when Toby came bursting out of a den filled with scantily clad Shih-Tzu screaming, "I'm a bear!" It seems a combination of opium addiction and bear head-games had convinced Toby that he wasn't just a bear handler, but a real bear.

From then on, the bear became harder and harder to control. It's a little known fact that all bears are psychologists deep down. They're masters at playin head games with other animals. The most manipulative of all bears is that there Winnie. Look at the facts. He got a nine year old boy to believe he was livin in a magical world where his stuffed animals would come to life. He even got poor Christopher Robin to laugh when he gorged himself on honey and then spent days throwin twigs into a stream. Eventually, Winnie twisted little Christoper Robin's mind to the point that the poor kid worshipped the bear as a god and did anything he was ordered, including killing all the animals of the woods in what the boy believe to be the "cleansing fire of the almighty pooh." Poor kid. He spent the rest of his life in an asylum for the criminally insane, alternatively muttering about the Pooh Paradise and wailing for Tigger. And the Russian circus bear was no different.

The bear had planned to keep Toby under the haze of opium addiction long enough to convince him that the bear was his god and only master. He would test his bounds a little more each show. At first, it was little things, like playing a flat note or two. Then, it became bigger, like refusing to wear the little hat while he rode the unicycle. After months of manipulation, the bear was ready for his final test. He was hopin to kill an audience member while Toby stood and watched. The bear knew full well that, with Toby on his side, he would be an unstoppable force and ruler of the entire circus. He hadn't counted on Ozymandias.

On the night of the show, the bear got Toby to unlock his chains, "Because it's chaffing." Just before he sat down to play his dreaded Bach piece, he broke free and charged the front row, where the local charity to help one-legged orphans who also happen to be burn victims had brought their little charges to be entertained. As he got three feet from the audience, he was tackled by a little white fluffy blur. It was Ozymandias. The little dog took down the bear by the throat, putting it in the dreaded poodle sleeper hold. When the bear had passed out, Ozymandias trussed him up like a thanksgiving turkey, making sure to bind his mouth.

After the panic had subsided, the circus manager called the brothers into his office. He let them know that, while he and the one-legged burn victim orphans appreciated Ozymandias' help with the bear, all the circus folk knew that Toby was really the one who had released the chain. He gave Toby the boot and Ozymandias the option to stay, but he wouldn't. The two little dogs walked out into the cold Iowa morning, not knowing where to go or what to do then, when they were picked up by Sheriff Tom. He convinced the dogs to turn over a new leaf and use their strength and lassoing skills for good. Over the next couple of years, they became a regular addition to the police force, used mostly as impound patrol, which is how I found myself facing them.

I thought of all this in a split second, but none of it helped me find a way out of the situation, so I did the first thing I thought of. I kicked them. They are only toy poodles, after all. They're tiny and I'm a big ol' grown man. Plus I was wearin my big steel toed boots that day. I don't care how mean a two and a half pound dog is, it ain't gonna be in one place long when it meets a steel toe. I knew they wasn't gonna be gone for long, even with the good kickin I gave 'em, so I had to get to the van fast.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Breakin Out

Douggy and I hopped in the tow truck and headed down town to bust Carl out of the impound before the meth zombie could pick it up. On our way, we made a game plan. Game plans are important, and not just for games. You need game plans for all sorts of things. Makin a cake? Need a game plan. Talkin your way out of a ticket? Game plan. Fightin ninjas? You guessed it; game plan. The odd thing is that you don't always need a game plan to play a game. I remember when I was a kid and we'd play cowboys, we never really had a plan. But that was before we grew up, saw High Plains Drifter and found out that cowboys, especially that Clint Eastwood, always have a game plan. That prolly explains why we were never really able to bring our cattle to market. Well, that and we was actually herding cats. Now, some people'll tell ya that something or another is like herdin cats, but, unless those people are trying to get a thousand drunk, egotistical donkeys laden with bricks to move four inches in the same direction while the donkeys are swingin knives, then whatever it is they're talkin about is prolly nothin like herdin cats; and you can tell 'em I said so. So, havin learned, at the tender age of 21, the lessons from herdin cats, Douggy and I have been big on the whole game plan idea for most of our adult lives.

Makin this plan turned out trickier than I had anticipated. The impound was surrounded by a ten foot hurricane fence topped with a whole mess of barbed wire. Inside the compound are two of the meanest dogs you ever seen. They're toy poodles, sure, but they're toy poodles with some serious psychological issues. One of them thinks he's a bear and the other thinks he's a bear's sidekick, which is almost as good as bein a bear and you don't have to get in as many fights. The only two entrances to the impound are a) through the police station and 2) through the rolling gate, which is secured by four miles of heavy chain and butts up to a guard house. Sure, the guard house is never really occupied, but it was was there and had to be accounted for in a good game plan. We knew we couldn't get through that much chain without a grinder, which we did have in the truck, but we didn't have no where to plug it in except the police station, and Sheriff Tom prolly wasn't gonna let us run a bunch of extension cord through his station without askin a bunch of questions like, "Why do you need to run an extension cord?" or "What're ya doin with that bench grinder next to my chain?" We didn't have a lot of time to bother with those kind of questions and we didn't have any answers that didn't involve felonies. We also wasn't gonna be able to go through the police station without all sortsa excuses either. Even if we did, we'd prolly have to be escorted into the yard of the impound, ruining our secrecy anyway. We were gonna think up some alternative, but we were already at the impound and we didn't want to put it off any longer. It turns out our plan was that Douggy'd give me a boost over the fence, I'd open the van up and then I'd fly out of there on Carl's back. Barrin that, we'd lower the chain of the tow truck over the fence and we'd climb to freedom. How hard could it be?

Everything was going swimmingly for the first bit, you know, the part where Douggy boosts me over the fence. Then, we hit a little snag. It wasn't a problem in our plannin or nothin like that. We hit a real, actual, honest-to-goodness snag. Well, I hit the snag, and that snag was called barbed wire. I'd commited myself to the drop when my pants got all caught up in the barbed wire. Everything went spinny for a second and the next thing I know, I'm hangin upside down from a fence with a swatch of concrete starin me in the face from 8 feet away. I coulda prolly figured my out of that mess if the waist on my jeans hadn't given out so I started slippin. I was worried about my face meetin the aforementioned concrete when my boots got caught up in my jeans, leavin me in the same predicament, only 2 feet lower. Even that wouldn't have been the end of the world if I'd been given time to think about it. Sadly, it was not to be.

There I am hangin upside down in my skivvies, tryin to break into the car impound in total secrecy when who should walk up but my sister Frank. She didn't look none to happy to see me, either, I tell you what. She stood right on the other side of the fence, hands on her hips and arms akimbo, and asked me, "Pat, just what in the heck do you think you're doin?"

"Oh, well, I, um..." I stammered a little. You know what I needed right then? You got it, a game plan. It came on suddenly. "Oh, hey, Frank. What am I doin here?"

"Yes, Pat," she fumed, "What on Earth are you doin hangin from a fence by your pants?"

"Oh, it's not what you think," It wasn't really a lie because, whatever it was she thought it was, it wasn't that, unless she thought it was what it was, but it prolly wasn't, you see? "I been lookin for some extra income, see, and I was on the internet and they had this postin for a secret shopper. You know, they go around to restaurants and stores and stuff and talk about how clean they are and how friendly the people are and things like that. Well, I signed up for it and they sent me a couple of assignments. I did pretty well on 'em, so they promoted me to workin on state project, but they kept me with the private projects, too. So, anyway, they sent me to test these jeans for durability and the sheriff's office asked for someone to come over and test their security. So, I figured I'd just kill two birds with one stone, here. And so, I am in the situation you see me in." I wiggled my feet a little. "Boy, these jeans sure are stur..." Just then, they finished ripping. Thankfully, I managed to break my fall a bit with my hands and my face, so my vital chest part was uninjured.

"Oh! Are you all right?" shouted Frank.

"Yeah, sure, I'm fine," I managed to squeak out, "but those jeans just lost a couple points."

She watched as I cleaned myself up a bit and managed to stem most of the bleeding. Then she asked me the hard question. "How were you plannin to get outta there?"

"Oh," I stopped and looked around, "I...uh..."

She stopped me. "I'll go around and tell Sheriff Tom you're back here and ask him to let you out."

"NO!" I said a bit too loudly. "It's fine, I'll figure it out on my own!"

"Don't be silly, Pat. You're trapped back there and OH MY GOD, LOOK OUT!"

I turned just in time to see the poodles come up on me. Don't worry none about it, I got away from 'em. I'll fill you in on that next time.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Toast Trees

We had a late night gettin all the solderin done and the satellites in orbit and the squimonk explainin somethin about how, in an infinite universe, everything that could possibly happen is always happening which I didn't get, so I won't go into detail on all that. We was tryin to work fast because we didn't know when McClawenstein would send someone on down to the impound to pick up the van. We worked until one, one thirty Friday night. I was thinkin I'd sleep right in, maybe get up around 9, laze around the house drinkin coffee and doin that new soo-doe-koo thingamajig they got in the paper now. Instead, as soon as that sun came over the horizon and the birds started singin, I was layin in bed thinkin that there was no way one earth I was gonna get up at seven o'clock on a Saturday mornin after workin hard all night. But nature is a harsh mistress and when she calls, you gotta get up, wander to the big white phone and answer by fillin up a tiled room with the sound of a waterfall. Then, since you're up already, you might as well go to another tiled room and get some other water runnin over some ground up beans so you can start fillin up the ol' bladder again.

I stood at my sink and looked out my window for an hour or so while I drank two or three cups of coffee and ate some toast. I know some people think I eat over the sink because there ain't no one to tell me to use a plate, but that ain't the case. The sink is the perfect place to eat toast or a sandwich or whatever. If you drop any crumbs, they're goin right into the disposal. Some of em get to the disposal by way of the beard. Of course, there are those that just stay with the beard until they decide they've had enough and make their escape in the car or a bowl of soup I may be havin for lunch or, for some of the lucky ones, they fling themselves out of the beard as I'm drivin down the road on a sunny day with the window open and they get to stumble down the highway in the sun like a man lightin out for the territories. I like to think that maybe someday, one of them crumbs that fly out of my beard will settle on some pieve of fertile ground next to a cornfield or maybe the fishin hole and through some kind of magic or crazy science, that crumb will turn into a little seed and start sendin out shoots, reachin for the nutrients below and the sun above, strainin, strainin for life. Then, if the soil is good enough and the sun's not out too long and we get enough rain; not enough to flood, mind you, just enough to water some; if all these things come together, that little beard seed will grow into a giant, magnificent toast tree. I'd sit under that tree in the summer, layin with my head on its trunk, a jar of peanut butter in my hand, and I'd think about life and how funny it is that toast can grow into a tree. Sometimes, I think I'd build a house up in the toast tree and stock it with coffee and jam. I'd put a sink in that tree house with a window over it so I could reach out, grab some ripe toast and munch it over my sink, thinkin about the other toast trees that will spread through my beard. I gotta say, this is prolly why it takes me an hour or two to eat my toast and drink my coffee over the sink, goin off on all these wild flights of fancy.

Followin my toast tree revery, I was ready to get into the donut shop and see what was shakin with the van. By the time I got to the shop, there was a flurrly of tiny, fuzzy activity. I asked the nearest squimonk, "What's the haps?"

Hurrying past, he barely looked at me when he said, "There's a problem."

Before I could ask what it was, I heard Alistair call me from behind. "Pat, we've got a problem and we're gonna need your help."

How could I say no? "Sure, what is it?"

"We've had a team installing trackers on the van, but the installation took longer than we anticipated and now the sun's up and they're stuck in the van. To make things worse, the meth dealer guy is in the police station now filling out the paperwork to get the van released. If we don't get those squimonk out of the van, they'll be in big trouble."

"Why don't they just leave the van?" I asked. "After all, you guys pass for squirrels all the time. Isn't that what you were made for?"

"Ok, look," he began again, "when I said we had a team in there, I meant we had Carl in there. And Carl can't leave the van because, being part whale, he's 6'2". If you want to explain to the good citizens of this town why there's a 6'2" squirrel monkey lumbering down the road shootin mucas and whatever other foulness out of a hole in his head, then be my guest."

"Well, why didn't you say so in the first place?"

"I don't know, Pat."

"Well, what do you need me to do?"

"We need you to go one down to the impound and pick up Carl. Sneak him out so no one sees him. Then, all you gotta do is drive him back here."

And doin that simple task turned into more of an adventure than I thought it would be. I'll tell ya all about it tomorrow.