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2020.01.22 10:53 Rocknocker DEMOLITION DAYS Part 75

“Well”, I begin, “This one is the Bureau of Land Mismanagement. This one is the Bureau of Indigenous Affairs. This one is the Department of the Inferior. And this is from the Occupational Safety and Health Act, cautioning that this vehicle is carrying high explosives.”
“You know”, he replies, “You really shouldn’t be doing that. I mean, you shouldn’t put official stickers on your truck if you’re not actually carrying explosives.”
“Oh, but I am”, I reply, “See, I’m a fully licensed and certified Master Blaster.”
“Oh, sure you are.” He scoffs.
Evidently in his world, blasters can’t wear a Stetson, shorts, atrocious Hawaiian shirts, and field boots.
“I’m not kidding, officer.” I say, “If you’ll allow, I can show you my certifications and licenses.”
He then sees my sidearm.
The next thing I know, I’m slammed up against the side of my truck.
“My beer is getting warm”, I mentioned to him.
Actually, I said: “Hold on, Kojak! I’ve got a CCL! I’m from Texas and am fully licensed!”
“Sure you are”, as he paws at my Cusall.
I probably shouldn’t have, but I broke his hold, spun around and hands up, repeated that I’m licensed. I was going to mention that first before he sidetracked me about those nefarious stickers.
He drew down on me and I just stood there, hands I the air, while the entire parking lot was watching. I’m staring down the barrel of a Glock 9mm, handled by an unhinged office of the law.
“Officer!” I say, loudly, hands up. “Please. Relax! If you wait a second, I’ll slowly give you my sidearm while we sort this all out. No problem. Look at my truck’s plates. I’m from Texas!”
“Shithead.” I thought but didn’t add.
“On the ground!” he barks. “Now!”
I give up. He won’t listen. I comply and go slowly to my knees.
“Sir, I’ve got a really barking back right now. I’ve been sleeping rough in a tent for the last week. This is as far as I can go without a forklift.” I say.
He barks something else and scrabbles for my sidearm. I just knelt there and made certain I made no moves this twit could interpret as threatening.
“Flip the leather strap from the bottom,” I say, “It’ll come out a lot easier.”
“Shaddup, you!” he barks again.
He yanks my sidearm out of the holster and goes to toss my Casull aside.
I protest heavily.
“I do have a permit, and that’s a $2,500 custom pistol. Please, a bit more care, officer.”
He sets it down, beyond my reach, and cuffs me. The cuffs are too small to fit me singly so he has to use both pairs he’s carrying. I make no effort to help nor hinder him.
He retrieves my pistol and tries to stand me up. I tell him that I can get up on my own.
“I’m not going anywhere, Officer. This would be too good to miss.” I almost snicker.
I stand up and lean against my truck.
“Don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere.” I restate.
He takes my pistol, and hotfoots it over to his squad car, and is instantly on the radio.
A few minutes later, it’s like the antepenultimate scene in the Blues Brothers.
Cops everywhere.
Local cops. State Troopers. Sheriffs. Probably a detective or two as well.
I’m just standing there, smirking as I watch my bags of ice melting in the shopping cart.
Finally, a police Captain walks over and asks “What’s all this then?”
Before I can say a word, Officer Excitable goes on how I’m probably a felon, I’m armed, I have a truckload of explosives, and I am probably responsible for the sun going Red Giant in 5 billion years.
I just stand there, grimacing, shaking my head, waiting for things to simmer down.
Finally, the police Captain wanders over and asks for my side of the story.
“Sir. I am Doctor Rocknocker, on a district-wide project sanctioned by the BLM, BIA, and the Department of the bloody fucking Interior. I have a full CCL permit, valid all over the entire southwest, am a fully licensed and certified Master Blaster. Officer Excitable over here was quizzing me about the stickers on my truck, saw my sidearm, went apeshit, and completely ignored me as I tried to identify and explain myself.”
“Is this true?” the Captain asks Officer Excitable.
“He said he had explosives in the truck. Then I saw his gun!” Officer Excitable whines.
“Uncuff this man”, the Captain instructs. Like I’m going to try anything with probably the entre force standing in the parking lot giving me the stink-eye, stroking their sidearms with their hand on their hips.
“Thank you”, I tell him, rubbing my wrists. “If you’ll allow, I’ll get my wallet out to show you my ID and permits.”
“OK, slowly”, he replies.
I dig out my wallet and just hand him the whole thing. Let him root around in it to his heart’s content.
He first found my driver’s licenses. He could actually read the Texas one and figured I was who I said I was.
Then he found my Concealed-Carry Permit.
Then he found my Licensed Master Blaster permit.
Then he found my ISEE certifications, AAPG, GSA, SEPM, DOT, BLM, BIA, DOI, and Communist Party membership cards.
Well, everything except for the last one. They would never let me join for some reason.
[That’s a joke for the humor-impaired.]
He looked over to Officer Excitable. Suddenly, the tables have gone 1800. Now, he was the one in deep shit.
The Captain returned my wallet after making some notes in his cop pad.
I asked if I could put my groceries away before they all melted.
“Sure”, he replied, “But please stay here. I need to make some calls.”
“Will do”, I replied, grabbed my cart, opened the back of my truck, and dropped the tailgate.
Officer Excitable went nuts.
“Sir! Look! He has explosives in back here!”
The Captain walks over, looks in the back of my truck, and sees the yellow and black striped, welded, thick cast-iron locked box which is bolted to the frame of the truck. The one with the OSHA and DOT stickers plastered all over it proclaiming: “DANGER! EXPLOSIVES! CAUTION!”
The Captain says something I couldn’t hear to Officer Excitable as the officer returns my sidearm, hightails it to his squad car, and squeals out of the parking lot.
I load up the groceries. Put the beer and such in the cooler, go to the cab of the truck, and retrieve a cigar. I’m sitting on the tailgate when the Captain returns, I’m just dusting off my Stetson.
“As expected, you check out”, he says, “I knew you would, but you have to admit, you really don’t look like a Doctor of Geology or a Master Blaster.”
“Really?” I ask, “How many do you know to make such a comparison?”
“Good point, Doctor”, he replies. “Sorry about Officer Excitable. It’s usually pretty quiet around here and I think the desert heat gets to these guys sometimes. Fries out all their brain juice. I’ll understand if you want to file an official complaint.”
I sit and think. And then think some more. I puff away in thought.
Puff. Puff. Puff.
“Nah, I’m just passing through”, I say, “But please tell Officer Excitable he really needs to work on his listening skills. I was trying to comply but he refused to pay attention. That could be dangerous with some really unhinged whack job. Rather than someone who just looks like one.”
“Fair enough”, the Captain continues. “If you don’t mind my asking, what’s in the lock box in back, and what DOI project are you on?”
I show him the contents of the lock box in the back. He whistles lowly.
“Holy shit” he laughs, “I’m glad you’re on our side.”
“You should be”, I thought to myself.
I then tell him of the Mine Closures Act and how Dr. Eva and I are out combing the Southwest, closing mines and making life safer for ignorant people and winged sky rats.
“I’ve heard about that”, he replies. “Doing any here in Arizona?”
“Yes sir”, I reply and get the map out of the truck. I show him the areas we’re off to next, right after dinner, laundry, a few well-deserved tots, and a good night’s sleep.
“I’ll call some of the stations in those towns nearest your project. I’ll let them know you’re on official business. You won’t have any more problems in this state, Doctor.” He assures me.
“The DOI sent out a Twix on this project.” I say, “All law enforcement agencies in the affected areas were included in the notice.”
“Still, I’ll spread the word.” he grins, “Y’know, just in case…”
“Fair enough, Captain”, I say and shake his hand.
“Oh, Doctor”, he adds, “I have to ask. What’s that cannon you’re carrying?”
“Oh, that?” I say in mock resignation, “Just a .454 Casull Magnum. Pea shooter.”
“Holy shit”, he smiles. He shakes his head and slowly walks to his vehicle.
Back at the hotel, Eva asks what took me so long.
“Nothing much”, I reply, “Just chatting with some local law enforcement.”
After breakfast the next day, we’re back on the road again.
The next week we visited mines around Tuba City, Supai, Seligman, Indian Wells, and Ganado. Tenting again and living off the land, we blasted 15 mines and set bat-gates for 7 more.
I got to exorcize a lot of my demons. I was able to design all the mine demolitions with no one, especially regulatory bodies, looking over my shoulder. I could go for a little overkill and no one would be the wiser. I was profligate in using dynamite. I was creative in using molded C-4 shaped charges. I used more Torpex than many submarines in WWII. I played with the new Kinestik binary explosive and rattled windows miles away.
I even gave Eva a crash course in detonic chemistry.
We closed all those mines good and fucking proper. I went so far as to wrap one internally with Primacord. The adit was around 6 feet in diameter but had a number of bolts on the roof, Ackermans (rock-screws) on the walls, and rails on the floor. I looped the Primacord around the roof bolts, down the walls, across the floor, back up the wall…you get the idea.
I affixed a satchel charge of C-4 and HELIX binary to a couple of lengths of Primacord that hung down exactly 2.5 feet, or halfway; right in the middle of the several loops of Primacord. I placed a 25-millisecond delay cap on the hanging Primacord and satchel charge.
After actuation, the loops of Primacord would detonate. Then, like the accelerator charges in a nuclear device, I’d have a focused-inward explosion on the satchel charge. Several milliseconds into all this the satchel charge, now compressed by the looped Primacord, would detonate.
Since it had been squashed down probably some 75 or 80 percent, once actuated, there would be far less distance for the actuation charge to travel. Even at 22,500 feet per second, milliseconds matter.
I left a gaping, smoking pile of rocks on the ground where a dangerous adit once stood.
Finally, we’re in the last state, as we drove back into New Mexico.
Outside of Seligman, after having lunch out in the boonies, I showed Eva how to use her new Ruger.
She was a little apprehensive, but after I popped off a few cute, little rounds, she asks for it and plonks downrange at a collection of old tin cans. She’s pretty good and holes several of those cans with her little plinkster.
“So”, she asks, “Is there really a big difference between this and the one you carry?”
“Cover your ears”, I say. I snap to, skin my smoke-wagon, and drop the hammer five times.
Several cans downrange evaporate into metallic confetti.
“Jesus Christ!” she exclaims. “You could have just said it was larger.”
“Like the difference between your Toy-Auto and a speeding Kenworth” I chuckle.
We stopped for an overnighter in Yah-Tah-Hey, New Mexico. We stayed at the El Rancho Motel as it was the first one we found we could both agree upon. We needed to do laundry again, to send a few faxes, and get some decent food.
We later needed to drive up to Shiprock, over to Farmington, back on NM-550 and into Nageezi. We’d be dropping in on Lago de Estrella from the north. We could drop by the Scavada Trading Post, fill Esme’s shopping list, and knock out the four mines before tiffin.
And we take tiffin pretty durn early around here, Buckaroo.
We could lodge back in Cuba, and knock out the last two mines near San Ysidro before heading back to Albuquerque.
But first, we need to attend to an old talc mine near Naschitti.
I loathe talc mines. No, I fucking hate talc mines. Talc is an extremely soft metamorphic aluminosilicate rock. It’s so soft, it has a rating of 1 on the Moh’s Hardness Scale.
Diamond, in contrast, is 10.
Being located in a metamorphic terrane, the geology is usually confuzzled by the dynamothermal history of the area. It doesn’t make for easy mapping and lateral as well as vertical changes can pop up without warning. It’s difficult to get a handle on these mines, even for an experienced geologist.
Plus, they’re weaker than hell. They are usually very heavily timbered, just to keep them from burying the miners. Hell, I’ve been in some where iron ribbing and thick-walled structural pipe had to be used to hold the damn things up and open. They weather very easily, and can literally turn into a Jello-y mass from the encroachment of alkaline surface waters. They are not fun places to dick around in.
Plus, I had to go into this damned thing and look for goddamned bats.
The mine had little free-air flow, so that means I need SCBA [Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus] equipment, plus all my fun, and heavy, sensors. That was in addition to all the other shit I need to make ingress to these places.
Eva was a little put off that I took on all the mine surveying while she remained outside and held down the fort. She wanted to see what a mine was all about and since we’re already on the last state in our journey, she figured that this would be as good a time as any.
“Nope”, I said, “Not going to happen. Too dangerous. Even I don’t want to do this.”
“But I need the full experience”, she said.
That she did, but not here. I put my foot down and she still remained adamant.
“No. Not here.” I said.
“Why not?” she asked.
I held up one gloved index finger indicating I wanted her quiet and to remain right here.
I walked into the mine some 25 or so meters and scooped a large handful of the wall off and brought it back.
“This is why,” I said, as I crumbled the mushy talc through my fingers and onto the ground.
“That’s what’s holding open the mine. Still want to come with?” I asked.
“When you put it like that…” she agreed.
“Don’t worry”, I reminded her, “There plenty safer mines around Cuba that you can run around in, if you really deem it necessary.”
She agreed.
So once again, I invaded the mine and worked my way on back to the final work face.
What a fucking nightmare. Hot as hell, dead calm, virtually no breathable air, it stank terribly, there were loads of animal traces, but no live critters. Piles of old, weathered bat guano, plus loads of offshoot ancillary passageways to the left and right of the main central tunnel.
And I had to check each and every fucking one.
One after another, as I kept an eye on my air volumes and monitors. In some rooms, I could breathe freely, in others, instant death from all the hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide present. I proceeded very carefully and had all my gas monitors up as loud as possible.
Loads of trash from mining, however, it didn’t seem like anyone’s been in here since the workings were abandoned. This place was too dodgy for even the locals. I was not a happy camper. This place spelled imminent death at every turn in large, bloody capital letters.
I was approaching the final working face when I saw another damned right-hand tunnel.
I had 30 minutes SCBA air left plus another 20 on my emergency re-breather, so I decided as long as I’m here, I may as well check it out.
Shining my lights in, I saw it was a large open chamber; almost natural looking. Unusual, but not unheard of; it actually could be a natural cavern. I stepped into the chamber and saw piles of old, weathered, nasty looking bat guano. I hoped to hell there wasn’t a colony of bats here. I wanted to blow this thing into the next dimension and get a very stiff drink.
Or eight.
But, protocol demands. So I walked in a bit further and shone my lights around. My geosenses were tingling on high alert. Something’s just not right about all this.
Swinging my lights around, I scanned the floor. Nothing but batshit. Pile and piles upon piles of decomposing guano.
I scan the walls. Smeared with bat piss and other Chiropteran effluvia.
Then I swung my lights up, and scanned the roof.
I will never forget what I saw there.
An entire colony of bats.
Thousands upon thousands of bats.
Thousands upon thousands of dead bats.
Rather, thousands upon thousands of dead bat skeletons.
An entire colony was wiped out instantly by some belching noxious gasses and died in situ. They hung up there and rotted away, leaving their bleached skeletons as greeting cards to anyone foolish enough to venture this deep into this place of raw, unvarnished evil.
Chewing down my mammalian ‘flight’ responses, scientific training finally kicked in. I took many photographs, made some compass readings, updated my notes, and exited quickly.
I found the last working rock face about 10 meters further down the main line. I snapped some quick photos and called Eva on the radio.
“I’m egressing. Nothing here. Please have a very strong drink waiting for me. Rock, out.”
As fast as I deemed safe, I boogied the fuck out of this malevolent place.
I hate talc mines, I’m not keen on bats, loathe noxious gasses, but really don’t care for modern death assemblages.
Fossil thanatocoenosis? Fine. Modern? Fuck no.
I was out in 30 minutes. I went straight to my truck, and stripped off most all my mining gear; quaking ever so slightly.
Eva noticed that I was a little shook and handed me a cold potato juice and sour citrus cocktail.
I drained it in one go.
I never showed her how to make one. I told you she was a quick study.
“Rock?” Eva asked, “The fuck? You OK?”
Thus fortified, I was able to regain some of my composure.
I lit a cigar, dropped the tailgate of my truck, and sat down heavily.
“Eva, it was a horror show in there”, I said. “Bats. Thousands. Dead. Skeletonized. Hanging from the roof.”
Eva looked at me in shock and awe
“I hope you got pictures”, she said, no hint of humor at all in her voice.
I sat there looking at her like she’d just sprouted watermelons.
“Really?” I asked.
She chuckled and said “I never thought I’d see the day. Doctor Rocknocker finally meets his match.”
“I’ve seen some serious shit”, I replied, “But nothing prepared me for the likes of this.”
Eva took some great notes and I think she even wrung a paper out of this event. I didn’t even want accessory authorship on the damned thing. It still gives me the retroactive heebie-jeebies.
After some time passed and I regained my equanimity, I shot that mine with a fearful vengeance. Primacord, Torpex, C-4, dynamite, and some HELIX binaries thrown in for good measure. I didn’t just want to close that mine, I wanted to kill it. I made sure to angle all the charges so that at least some of the blast waves went back into the mine itself. I didn’t just want the adit closed, I wanted to seal as much of that place as possible. I wanted to drop the very earth above it and erase this nefarious hole in the ground.
After we set our signage, we drove up to Shiprock and over to Farmington. We hit Bloomfield and stopped in for a bag of Mama Burgers and a couple of cold draft root beers.
“Wait until we get to the Scavada. Fred’s putting us up for the night, although he doesn’t know it yet. Then it’s poker, cigars and lots and lots of booze.” I kept thinking.
We hooked a left and dropped south towards Nageezi. We were attacking the Scavada from the north. Fred’ll never know what hit him.
Outside Nageezi, we found an old coal mine that needed remediation
Now here was one that Eva could cut her teeth on. Nice and safe little coal mine in late Cretaceous Kirtland and Fruitland sub-bituminous-B coal. No H2S, no CO, no nasty bats, no pack rats, no coyotes, no critters at all. Abandoned coal mines are despised as homesteads for everything but some species of snakes. I doubt we’ll even see one of the little bastards in there, after all the horrors I saw at the last mine.
We stopped and found the mine adit easily. She followed my lead as I kitted out; still needing to be prepared, and followed me into the mine. No respirators needed, so we could chat normally. The floor was dusty, not wet, so it was easy going. No signs of animal activities; and bonus, the mine was only 350 meters deep. We reconned that sucker and were done and dusted in less than an hour.
A little dynamite would seal this bastard easily. I let Eva help me with priming the charges, noting that I alone can place and set them as I’m the only one licensed. She had no problem with this, as she had her mine wandering demons exorcised as well.
We shot that hole, and with a great puff of black coal powder, another one bites the dust.
We set the sign and I told Eva that I have a surprise, and it’s literally just down the road.
“OK, lead on”, Eva smiles.
We hit the road again, and minutes later, we wheel into the parking lot of the Scavada Trading Post.
“What’s all this?” Eva asks.
“My home away from home while I was doing the fieldwork for my degrees,” I replied, smiling a yard wide.
“Now the owner’s an old mate of mine. His name’s Fred. A little rough around the edges, but he’s an old and dear friend.” I explain, “Plus, he’s like my brother and mostly harmless.”
I was surprised Fred didn’t run out and sprawl across the hood of my truck, as per usual.
“Let’s go in and I’ll buy you a cold beer in celebration of your mining baptism,” I said and headed into the Trading Post.
“FRED!” I yelled, “Ice’em down. The Doctor is in!”
Fred walks out and greets us.
“Hey, Doc. How’s it going?” he asks, as we shake hands.
“OK. We’re getting done with our project. This here is Dr. Eva. She is a bat biologist and we’ve been blowing the living shit out of old mines in the 4-Corners area. And we require beer and liquor, in heroic amounts.” I report.
Fred shakes Eva’s hand and greets her, most quietly and cordially.
And most uncharacteristically un-Fred-like.
My geosenses were tingling again. “Fred, what’s the deal here? What’s going on?” I ask.
“You wouldn’t know. How could you? Sani passed last week,” he tells me.
I feel like I’d just been kicked in the guts.
“No. Shit. Fuck. Really?” I asked, not wanting to believe.
“Yeah. Last Tuesday.” Fred tells me.
“Who’s Sani?” Eva asks.
I start, but Fred completes a quick Sani biography.
“Oh, Rock. I’m sorry.” She says.
“Thanks”, I reply.
I really want a drink now, but not for good reasons.
Fred moves us over to a table and brings out a bottle of very old scotch.
“I was saving this, but for what?” he says, “Let us crack this, and drink to Sani.”
We all agree.
A few tots later, we’ve said what could be said. The melancholia could be cut with a knife. Eva was kind of stunned, not knowing Sani nor knowing what to say. Fred just sat there, silent. I thought, grimaced, and swore lightly.
Finally, I said, “Fred, listen. Sani would not be happy with us right now. Instead of glowering over his death, we should be celebrating his life. And his impact on our lives. This has been foretold. This has been foreseen. So it will be.”
Eva looked at me with a wry smile.
Fred looked at me, nodded, and said “OK, enough of this grief bullshit. Rock, you‘re right. Sani would smack us both upside the head for acting like a couple of moon calves right now. Let’s drink to his life, not death.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” I said.
Fred had rooms for both of us upstairs. We’d be spending the night at the Scavada Trading Post. Really give Eva some stories for back home.
We all sat and drank to Sani’s life and his impact on ours. I thought Eva might be getting bored, but she was fascinated. She wanted to hear all about Sani, our tales with him and drink to his memory.
Told you I’d toughen her up.
The talk got around to dead pawn and Fred brought out tray after tray of jewelry that had gone dead. Eva really sparked up when she saw all this stuff. I went over Es’ shopping list and selected a group of necklaces, bracelets, earrings, some Squash Blossoms, and silver Conchos.
Eva and I almost got into a bidding war over the Squash Blossoms. She was waiting to get back to Albuquerque to do some shopping for the folks back home. She explained that she always brought back something locally made for her family any time she went off on projects.
“Stuff Albuquerque”, Eva said, “This here is the genuine article!”
Remember when I asked if Eva’s family was loaded?
They aren’t loaded. They are L-O-A-D-E-D.
Eva bought most everything that I didn’t from Fred. By this time he was deliriously happy and gave Eva some great deals. Eva spent thousands. Fred was sitting there with a foot-wide grin. He said he could now make past-due payments on the Trading Post and get the damned furnace fixed.
Fred brought out some local food as time was slipping into the future. Frybread, meat on a stick, jerked beef, some sort of prairie salad. I went to my truck, retrieved some dry sausage, and other road chow, including Suzy-Q’s for Fred. They were his favorite.
I also liberated a couple of bottles of vodka, a 12-pack of Bitter Lemon, and some limes.
Fred already had an ice maker.
We sat and talked, drank, smoked my cigars, and told stories. Eva kept up with the best of ours and told some interesting tales of her own. Several locals came and went, but more came and stayed when they realized Doctor Rock was in town and brought his never-ending cooler.
The place was actually crowded, and Eva kind of went into overload. I offered to get her camping kit out of her car and take it upstairs to her room. She appreciated the offer. She was getting slightly ferschnickered and was suddenly very, very tired.
I retrieved her gear and took it up to the larger room upstairs at the Scavada. My room was down the hall. Fred had his room right off the front desk on the first floor. We all had our digs so Eva said goodnight and I helped her trudge up to her room.
Coming back, the place was jumping. Fred and I were the only Anglos, the rest of the crowd were all First Nation Navajo and Jicarilla Apache folk evidently related to Sani in one way or another. The rest of the night progressed in celebration of Sani and his impact on everyone present.
The next day started a bit late, but by 1100 hours, we had all showered, breakfasted, said our goodbyes and were headed back out in the field.
It was terribly windy that day, and extremely dusty. After finding one mine adit and getting my truck stuck for the first and only time, I asked Eva if we should just call the day a wash and drive into Cuba for the night.
She readily agreed.
The Cuba Café will deliver to the motel. We both ordered an early dinner, sent our faxes to Albuquerque, and called it a day.
We were out bright and early the next day. We had the remaining mines in the area treated, as all were without bats, by the early afternoon. These were small workings compared to the hard rock stuff in Utah and Colorado. We finished up and retreated back to the motel for our final night in Cuba.
We had two mines near San Ysidro and Zia Pueblo to take care of before we hit Albuquerque. These were on the road back, so we left early, found the mines, saw they held no bats and blasted them both before lunch. Good thing as well, I was getting low on permissibles.
We rendezvoused back at the offices of the DOI in the big city. We let Harry know we were coming and he met us at the parking lot.
We went inside and had a debriefing. He was very pleased with our progress, our notes and reports and all the data we had collected. He said that we had rooms at the Hyatt next-door for the night. We could replenish our supplies for our last few mines before Socorro, down south. He figured I could swing into Socorro and leave all the DOI materials I had leftover, as well as the trailer, at New Mexico Tech’s geology department.
That way, we could finish our project, and just be on our way home without having to retrace our route.
We agreed, I went to fill my shopping list again and Eva went to the hotel and checked us both in.
We met later in the restaurant as Harry was taking us all to dinner. It was a subdued affair, especially when contrasted with our shenanigans at the Scavada Trading Post.
We had a couple of cocktails each and the food was mostly serviceable.
“It’s certainly not Doctor Rock’s field food” Eva chuckled.
“I fully expect you to cover that in your final report”, Harry laughed.
We all parted at a decent hour, and I returned to my room to call Esme. She was very pleased to hear from me and know that I’d be home in a couple of days’ time. I said nothing of Sani, I figured I’d wait until I got home.
Lady was barking in the background and Es had to hang up. Seems Oma was making cookies in the kitchen again and Lady insisted on helping.
I sat in my room, smoking a cigar, drinking a tot or twelve, and writing my final reports. This trip had been different than all the others. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, and it wasn’t just Sani’s passing. It was something more centralized, more corporeal, and more unrecognizable.
I puzzled over this for a while, dismissed it, and headed to bed. Tomorrow was going to be a long day.
We were back on the road south by 0800. Eva was actually leading the way for once. Can’t get lost going one way.
Down to San Acacia, we plastered an old mine that was just sick with bats. Our final mine of the project was an old manganese and iron mine outside of Lemitar. No bats here. I used far too much explosives as sort of a gross physical salute to the end of our project.
After this, Eva would head to Dallas, and I’d head back to Houston. Eva decided to drop her rental in El Paso and fly back to Dallas, so time was of the essence.
Standing in the parking lot of the Geology Department of New Mexico Tech, I asked if she still had her .22
“Of course”, she said.
“Make certain you tell the airlines when you check-in. It has to go in your checked baggage, empty of course, and they’ll zip-tie the trigger.” I remind her.
“Thanks, Rock. For everything” she said. “It’s been quite the trip. One I’ll never forget.”
“Same here”, I replied, “Stay in touch. I have your contact information.”
“And I yours.” she replies, “Best to you, and your family, Herr Doctor. You really are the hookin’ bull”.
“Thanks”, I reply, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”
We shake hands and that, as they say, was that.
She strolls back to her dusty rental Toy-Auto, tootles, waves, and wheels out of the parking lot headed first south, then east.
There was one last thing I needed to do in New Mexico before I left. After dropping off most of the Bureau’s leftover kit and ordnance, I went to the local Land Surveyors office in town.
There was a blind auction for some parcels here in the state and I wanted to make a bid.
There was this piece of land I had my eye on for years. I drop in, fill out the proper paperwork, and make a token bid on 35 undeveloped acres to the north and west.
With that, I take my leave of New Mexico for the time being.
I drive, sans trailer, straight through El Paso and only stop that night at a Motel Cheapinski outside of San Antonio.
The next day was a quick 3 hour trip down I-10 and I’m back home, once again.
Greeted by the family, they wanted to know how my trip was, what went on, and what did I bring them?
Not necessarily in that order.
I disburse all the presents and went to shower. After this, Esme joined me in my office and asked what was troubling me.
Never could keep anything from her.
“Sani died a couple of weeks ago”, I said.
“Oh, Rock. I am so sorry.” She said.
“Yeah, thanks. Kind of took the wind out of my sails temporarily. But I’m better now.” I replied.
“OK, good. Let’s get to bed. You look like 9 miles of bad road.” She says.
“Great idea”, I agreed.
The next day, after talking with Harry back in Albuquerque and Rack and Run here, there’s a knock at the door.
Esme answers and tells me it’s a registered letter. I sign for it and walk away wondering what the hell this was.
It was an offer for us to come to Qatar and for me to assume the position of Geological Manager for North Field, the world’s largest non-associated gas field. It was a full-on ex-pat position, for all of us.
Well, isn’t that a bit of a shocker?
We spent a good portion of the day going over the pros and cons of the offer. We decided to sleep on it and pick it up tomorrow.
The next day, there’s a knock at the door and another registered letter.
This one is from New Mexico.
Looks like I’m the proud owner, being the only bidder on this parcel, of 35 lovely, watered acres in the foothills of New Mexico’s Sangre de Christo Mountains.
It had cost me about $25 an acre…
Well, here was a pretty pickle.
Stay here in the US and continue to take contracts, while developing our retirement acreage?
Or relocate to the Middle East and start afresh there?
Hmm…this is a poser…
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2019.10.16 05:34 Rocknocker Demolition Days Part 32

That reminds me of a story.
Spring is here,
A-suh-puh-ring is here,
Life is skittles and life is beer.
I think the loveliest time,
Of the year is the spring.
I do, don't you? 'Course you do.
But there's one thing,
That makes spring complete for me,
And makes every Sunday,
A treat for me.
All the world seems in tune,
On a spring afternoon,
When we're off in a quarry blasting rocks.
Come Sunday you'll see,
My sweetheart and me,
As we‘re off in a quarry blasting rocks.
“But it’s Sunday, Rock. You’ve been reviewing for your defense all week and now you have to go to the quarry. Can’t you just give it a miss this week?” Esme pleads.
“Sorry, my sweet” I explain, “I’ve been a bit remiss in my pyrotechnic duties of late and I promised Mr. Varovik I’d have that west wall set for his crews come Monday,” I explain.
“OK, I see”, Esme pouts in that endearing manner of hers.
“You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do…” she says Turanga Leela-ly.
“Yes, that’s right”, I agree, “But why not come on down to the quarry with me? It shouldn’t take me that long then we can have a nice drive back. I’ll even stop at Kopp’s afterward and buy you a… frozen custard…” I inveigle.
“Well…” Es smiles, “When you put it that way…”
I grab both our sets of PPEs and toss them in the truck of her Nova. It’s a bright, sunny Sunday. A perfectly light breezy day to go out and blast the living shit out of some obstinate dolomitic limestone.
It’s a leisurely hours’ drive down the coast of the world’s greatest great lake south to the quarry. No need to hurry, in fact, I desire to have this idyllic scene last as long as reasonably possible. Because later, I have to prepare for my thesis defense, which has been planned for the following Friday. I’ve been burning the metaphorical candle at both ends, in the middle, and every other possible end as well. I need and damn it, deserve a break.
We wheel into the quarry’s abandoned parking lot. The only person here is the caretaker cum ancient and venerable security guard, Mr. Karaul.
I pull up to the gate and tootle the horn with vigor to rouse Mr. Karaul from his typical inertia. He’s a bit on the high side of 70. Thus he requires a few extra minutes to rouse himself, hide the bottle of dark rum he needs to loosen his joints and open the gate.
He sees me and gives a hearty wave. I pull into the quarry proper. Then he sees Esme.
“Mr. Rock. Good to see you. But, who is that with you? I do not recognize her. She cannot be here. It’s against regulations.” He protests.
I get out of the car and surreptitiously sneak him a pint flask of his favorite tipple.
It’s not a bribe; call it ‘social lubricant’ instead.
“Mr. Karaul, I would like you to meet my fiancée, Ms. Esme. Esme, please meet our esteemed emeritus quarry overseer Mr. Karaul.” I offer in the way of introductions.
“Oh, I see, Mr. Rock. In that case, as long as she’s with you and has her proper PPEs, I have no objection” as the flask of Old Navy Grog disappears into his guard jacket pocket.
“Thanks, Mr. Karaul. She’s not just my fiancée and observer, she’s a qualified geological scientist as well. This is a working visit, not just one for sightseeing” I continue.
“Oh? You will be doing some blasting today, Mr. Rock?” he asks.
“Oh, yes. That west wall has been most unruly. It needs to be taught some stern lessons.” I smile.
“In that case, I’ve got to make some calls. I have to alert the police and fire departments. You know how the neighbors are, always pitching their fits every time you decide to do some work.” He adds.
“The quarry has been here over a century. They knew what was going on when they moved or built here. Luckily, I think I can get away with three or four shots today, depending if the quarry rats drilled the proper shot holes for me.” I note.
“Yes, sir. I will lock the gates and remain ever vigilant. Please” as he tips his hat to Esme, “Off you go. Make the quarry attend to your will.”
“Thank you, Mr. Karaul,” I say “Thanks for your vigilance and attention to these matters.”
See? Social lubricant.
Mr. Karaul goes off to his guard shack to do his needfuls.
Esme and I troop over to my laboratory cum blaster’s shack and boom-maker repository.
“So, this is where the esteemed soon to be Doctor Rocknocker does his dirty work?” Esme jokes.
“Indeed it is, my love. You should have seen it when I took over. It was a bit of a shambles. There were explosives here dating from the late 1940s. I spent the first week cataloging, curating, and disposing of the old, outdated, and seriously dangerous ordinance. All that work is now finished, so I spent a lot of quarry money to upgrade things to something less 18th century. It’s now a safe and secure facility.” I beam proudly to my wife to be.
“Looks like you’ve been here. ‘A place for everything and everything in its place’, a typical Dr. Rocknocker production. Now if you’d just extend that to your hovel of a duplex. Socks and underwear in hampers and drawers, not on beds and floors.” Es chuckles.
“Starting already? We’re not due to wed for another month and you’re already trying to mold me into something else?” I smile.
“Rock, honey. I’ve been doing that since day one if you hadn’t already noticed…” Es smiles back.
Yeah, I made the right choice. No question about that.
We wander over to the west wall and see that my directions had been followed to the letter. There was a nice grid of shot holes all laid out and drilled as per my orders. This was going to be a cakewalk. A case or five of Herculene 60%, a little C-4, a touch of nitro, a spool of Primacord and I’ll have this wall all shot and ready to keep the quarry going another fortnight.
It was all to be aggregate, so I can dispense with subtlety and instead go for a brilliant shattering series of shots. No need to be overly judicious and just slightly shift some blocks of dimension stone. No, this will be a literal earth-shattering experience.
I show Es the reef and we spend a half-hour going over the finer points of Silurian Cnidarian coelenterates and their penchant for constructing biogeological structures. It’s really quite the textbook example of a fine shallow marine reef with all the attendant fore and back reef facies well preserved and displayed.
I had to make some impassioned speeches to the quarry owners to spare it as long as possible so some of my colleagues at University could milk their theses out of the critter.
But, that was for another day. We return to my lab and I begin to wire up the necessary blasting harnesses.
“How many shots are you figuring on today? “ Esme asks.
“Well, if it were any other day, I’d say three or four. But since you’re here and I have a serious lust for some frozen custard, it’s going to be one job, one shot.” I explain.
“Just as Uncle Bår always taught, right?” Esme smiles.
“Yes, indeed.” I smile, “You’re picking this stuff up quickly.”
“I have to in order to keep up with you.” Es smiles back.
Yes, I did indeed make the correct choice.
With Esme holding the ladder and me scampering around priming and charging each shot hole, we were done in half the time I had anticipated. After hanging some beat-up blasting mats, I’m running the Primacord back to the fuse actuator which was to be employed when I hear the wail of police sirens.
“Hmmm, wonder what’s going on? “ I muse.
After replacing the ladder and double-checking every connection for integrity, I was about to tell Es to get ready to depart. This was a 120-hole shot and it was going off 20 shot holes at a time, followed 280 milliseconds later by another round, for six series. It was going to be loud, energetic, and potentially messy.
I am about to raise the pre-shot alarm when I see the flashing lights of a county Sheriff squad car at the front gate. I couldn’t very well drop everything and mosey on over to see what was the problem. Another couple of minutes and I wouldn’t have been able to stop it at all.
Whatever these cops want better be damned important.
I ask Esme to go get Mr. Karaul and see what these characters want. I can’t leave, I explain and disconnect the fused-primer from the rest of the array. I’m more than a bit cheesed at having to put everything on hold at the last minute.
The cops talk with Es and Mr. Karaul for a few minutes while I stand around like an unemployed scarecrow. Don’t these idiots know I can’t just leave a fully charged and primed quarry wall on its own?
The cops walk over and it’s no one I know from the force. I’ve had several run-ins with the local constabulary over the years, ahem, all friendly and none leading to any convictions. But these goofs are wandering over and appear to have something important on their minds.
“May I help you officers?” I ask icily. “Something wrong?”
“Oh, no.” Officer #1 replies, “This here rookie” as he points to his wet-behind-the-ears partner, “has never seen a quarry explosion. When Karaul here called, I thought it would be a great idea…”
“It’s not a great idea, it’s a stupid idea” I cut him off. “First off, this isn’t a carnival peepshow. Secondly, you are not authorized to be in this quarry; especially now. Thirdly, you have no PPEs.”
“Yeah, I know,” cop #1 replies, “But we’re county peace officers and don’t need…” he gargles.
“You may be duly authorized peace officers in the county but your authority doesn’t exceed mine nor OSHAs in this quarry. You trying to tell me your authority supersede the feds?” I growl.
“Whoa, hold on there”, cop #1 says, “We want to see the blast and we’re going to…”
“You’re going to get the hell out of here before I call the county and the state. I’m responsible for everything and everyone in this quarry right now. You’re trespassing in my territory. You’re not in any way authorized to be here, especially when the quarry is supposed to be on lockdown.” I snarl, looking over to Mr. Karaul, who was deeply agreeing with me.
“Now look here, sonny”, cop #1 tries to continue.
“NO! You look here. You’re a cop. Good for you. You know the reasons for rules and hierarchy. Yet you choose to ignore them here. I don’t. I’m not going to let a couple of tinhorn flatfeet ruin my perfect record. If I have to dismantle this blasting array because a couple of lead headed county coppers want to watch a free show, you are not going to be pleased with the results of my official calls and letters of complaint Officer 1565 and Officer 9178 .” I snarled further.
“Jesus Christ. Don’t blow a gasket.” Officer 9178 says.
“I can’t do anything while you two meatheads are here. That wall contains over 450 pounds of primed and charged high explosives. A single pound of this stuff would turn your squad car into a smoking, charred, and demolished hulk. I’m holding the primer actuator in my hand so I can’t just toddle off. You diggin’ me, Beaumonts?” I ask glacially.
“But we were just…” Officer 1565 continues.
“Look. It’s getting warm out here and this stuff doesn’t care for a day in the sun if you catch my drift. Get over to my lab and you can watch from there. But I’m still getting your names and signatures that I’m informing you this is entirely on you if there’s any sort of problem. A release and disclaimer of indemnity. Got that?” I add.
“Shit, don’t have to make a federal case out of it.” Officer 9178 says.
“Yes, I do, Scooter. That’s exactly what it is! I’m dealing here with high explosives and have been ridiculously highly trained in its uses and spent a ridiculous amount of time learning its safe handling. You have not. Now, vamoose with Mr. Karaul, sign those waivers and get over to my lab.” I tell them pointedly.
“Should have just pulled the fucking primer when they showed up” I mused.
Esme, Mr. Karaul and the two officers troop over to the guard shack and I hear Es whistle as they make it to my lab safely.
“Retards. Next thing you know, they’ll be dropping in on the Coroner for an impromptu autopsy.” I growl under my breath.
Against my better judgment, I re-tootle the air horn, clear the compass, and do my Fire In The Hole refrain.
I wave to Es, and see everyone in my lab, behind the blast-resistant 2.5” thick Lexan window. Wonderful, the show can go on…
I yell to no one in particular “HIT IT!” pop the cap on the actuator and prime the fuse.
Magical orange smoke curls out and I see it’s burning along at its advertised 25 seconds per foot rate.
I set the actuator on the ground, and look once more at my handiwork. Smiling at a job well almost done, I slowly, deliberately, and cautiously walk the 200 or so meters back to my lab.
One of the officers flings the lab door open and starts yelling at me to run as there’s going to be an explosion.
It took every ounce of restraint not to verbally unload the scores of four-letter words I had at my disposal at this idiocy.
“Shut the God-damned door! I’ll be there when I get there!” I yell back. “Asshole” I grumble under my breath.
Es slams the door and I arrive about 45 seconds later, without having tripped over some old tool steel or errant cobble left in the yard.
I was going to give the coppers a good piece of my mind when I hear Esme already has taken up that task. She was ripping these bozos a new one. They just stood there, took it, and shied.
“Thanks, dear.” I said “Now, if I could direct your attention to the west wall” as I checked my watch.
“5, 4, 3, 2, 1…Ignition!”
There was a huge rippled series of blasts that shredded the blast mats I had strung previously and flung them halfway across the quarry floor. Luckily they contained all the kibbly bits so there was now just a very large pile of fractured limestone where the leading edge of the west wall previously stood.
The two officers jumped and I think peed themselves a bit when it detonated.
Esme and I just looked at each other, shook our heads, and smiled.
Mr. Karaul congratulated me on another fine blast. “That’ll keep those quarry rats busy for a couple of weeks” he smiled.
“Well, officers.” I calmly said, “There. Now you’ve seen a quarry blast. I do hope it was everything you had hoped it to be. Apologies if you think I got a bit shirty out in the field with you, but as you can see, I had a lot riding on pulling this off without killing anyone. Next time, please make prior arrangements. I’d be more than happy to give your whole department demonstrations. In fact, I’ll mention that when I talk with your superiors.”
“Um, no. Thanks. Ah, well, that won’t be necessary.” Officer 1565 says. “We’re good here, right?”
I didn’t know if he was talking to me or who exactly.
“Well, gents. I have to go and check for loafers.” I explain, “If we have no further business, I bid you Da Svidonya. C’mon, Es, let me show you what I do for fun.” As we head out into the quarry to do a post-job inspection.
Two hours later Esme and I were enjoying our delicious Turtle Sundaes (Caramel Custard + Fudge + Caramel + Pecans).
Es smiles and tells me “You should go rob a bank, Clyde. There not a cop in the county that wants to mess with you right now.”
“How about you, Bonnie?” I smile back, “You were the one reading them the riot act even before I got back to the lab.”
We both have a good snicker at the expense of our local constabulary.
Damn those Turtle Sundaes are good.
Thursday night. I’m nervous as a whore in church. Tomorrow it’s 9:00 AM nut-cuttin’ time.
Thesis defense.
Christ, I haven’t felt this many dive-bombing butterflies since…well, before I asked Es to be my one and only.
I couldn’t sleep. Esme had worked late and was already home. She’s tired as well and we decided she should stay home and I’d call her after the ordeal was over. No use the both of us going all insomniac.
I decided to forego a nerve-settling dram of dangerous brown liquor as I needed to be at the top of my game tomorrow. I’m sitting outside on the balcony of our palatial two-story dump of a duplex, chain-smoking cigars, and trying to summon my inner Zen.
I try that meditation bullshit I heard about during that Humanities colloquium I was forced to attend a few years back. Let your mind go. Try and go blank. Think of a calm blue ocean, think of tranquility, think of the…difference between the Noah’s Ark versus the Viking Funeral Ship mode of distribution of disjunct endemisms.
“ARGGH!” I scream into the night. “Get out of my mind!”
I try again and have similar results.
“Sorry, mate; your prefrontal cortex is stuck in high gear.” My brain mocks me.
Fuck this. Alternate plan. Think back at some pleasant memory. Think back…New Mexico…
I focus on the direction of Centaurus A, into the clear black night.
I try that controlled breathing stuff, and just focus off into infinity…
“You have all that you need. It has been foretold. Be not fearful.” I hear ethereally.
“What?!?” I say as I snap back to full consciousness.
OK, fuck it. If I’m going to hallucinate, I may as well be comfortable while I do it.
I kick back and just ignore every bit of external stimuli. I need to get some rest, somehow.
Kǫʼdził-hastiin, have no fear. All will be as it will. Harbor no fear, you are prepared.”
I sit up and look around. No one around. I’m totally alone. Just me and my overclocked prefrontal lobes.
“OK, that’s it. I’m officially nuts.” I finally accept. “If you’ll pardon me, I have no intention of facing this sober.”
I pour myself just a dram of Old Thought Provoker. Maybe this will be enough to derail my current out-of-control train of thought.
After my fourth or sixth ‘just a dram’, I finally immigrate to that land between consciousness and slumber. It wasn’t asleep, but it wasn’t wakefulness either. I knew enough to set my lit cigar in the ashtray but was powerless to get up and stumble into bed.
My wristwatch alarm goes off at 0600 like a timebomb. I snap to instant alertness.
I was in New Mexico. I was being spoken to by the Old Ones. I was told to be calm, to have no fear. Face the day like I face all others. I am in control. All will be as it was foretold.
I’m back in my hovel. I have been sitting outside the entire night. I need to compose myself and get ready for the big show.
I’m walking to campus strangely empowered. All doubt and anxiety had vanished. Maybe no cakewalk, but I’m going to grab this bull by the balls. I’ve got this.
My defense committee, if you recall, consisted of:
• Dr. Jak, the vertebrate paleontologist, and advisor, of course.
• Dr. Nebolshoy, our 6’ 8” tall micropaleontologist. No problem here.
• Dr. Bhūkampa, the geophysicist. He might be a bit of trouble.
• Dr. Hensei, the metamorphic petrologist. He shouldn’t be much of a problem.
• Dr. Deponejo, the sedimentologist. Easy-peasy.
• And Dr. Vesistö, emeritus professor of hydrology. Shouldn’t be too bad.
Coffee. Pee. More coffee. 0900 hours. Let’s do this thing.
I spent the next two and a half hours going over my original research with the committee. No questions were asked, as per usual. That would wait until after the customary coffee break.
A quick coffee and piece of raspberry kringle later, the grilling had commenced. I’d spend the next two hours or so answering general thesis-related questions. I knew this material better than anyone on the planet. I had this cold.
After a quick facilities break, it was the time for the final section of the defense. Each panel member would ask me a specific geological inquiry. Could be anything, from their field of study to something completely out of left field. It was a general applied knowledge time.
Let’s get it on…
Dr. Bhūkampa, the geophysicist, posed a question related to signal acquisition and data processing. A geophysical QA/QC problem? And I was worried that he might be a spot of trouble. After my ice diving activities, I was frosty in the clutch.
Dr. Deponejo, the sedimentologist asked about my theories of why there were so few vertebrate fossils, except for Hunter’s Wash, in my field area. We spent a half-hour bandying about theories of deltaic sedimentation, shallow marine deposition, lithification and differential preservation due to sectored environments. I almost didn’t want it to stop, I was actually having a pretty good time, talking shop.
Dr. Vesistö, emeritus professor of hydrology, asked about tiñajas, those coal seams that acted like really inefficient aquifers. Piece of cake.
Dr. Hensei, the metamorphic petrologist queried me over Precambrian banded iron formations and Archean migmatites. Like I said, out of left field, but I managed to give the correct overviews.
Dr. Nebolshoy, micropaleontologist asked about the difference between the Noah’s Ark versus the Viking Funeral Ship model of distribution of disjunct endemisms. He’s nothing if not predictable. Another one down and all I have left is my thesis advisor. I’m actually going to make it through this thing…
Dr. Jak, my beer drinking buddy and thesis advisor asks me a seemingly simple question:
“Why was the Sahara Desert where it was?
Everything screeched to a deafening halt.
“How’s that, Dr. Jak” I asked for clarification.
“It’s a simple question, Rock. Why is the Sahara Desert where it is?” he explained.
Panic in Detroit. I’m blanking and coming up empty. The entire thesis defense committee begins to titter.
“Um, well. You see…” I stammer.
“Rock”, Dr. Jak instructs me, “Draw a map of Africa on the board and show us where the Sahara is located.”
“OK, sure.” And I follow his instructions.
“The Sahara is located a bit further south”, he prompts me.
The penny drops. Idiot. It’s actually the easiest question of the day and I nearly muffed it.
“Of course. Sorry, I was a bit glazed there. It’s due to the African continent and its relation to the equator. As the African Plate slips south, it drags the environment of the desert with it, past the equator. That’s why it’s more pronounced in the north and less defined to the south.”
“Any further questions? “ I ask my council.
There’s a slight buzz and Dr. Jak, the chairman, says “No. Please wait outside for us to complete our deliberations.”
Normal thesis defenses last 2-3 hours. Mine went five and a half, but no one else had to present the discoveries and co-authored papers that were generated along with their thesis data.
I rubber-leg it outside and try to drain the water cooler. Damn, I was dry.
Not 5 minutes later, Dr. Jak emerges, shakes my hand, and proclaims me the proud owner of a brand new Master’s Degree in Geology.
“Congratulations, Kǫʼdził-hastiin,” Dr. Jak says.
Besides all the cosmic weirdness swirling around my head at this point, I could only think “Two down, one to go…”
I walk back into the defense room and thank each committee member individually. We speak of my plans to continue my education at the campus just an hour and a half north. They were all pleased and congratulate me on what they thought was also my best plan for the future.
I made certain to invite them all to my thesis defense party that would kick off as soon as I could get back to my hovel, shovel it out a bit, and lay in the necessary supplies.
“I hope you will all come over to my flat tonight for my thesis defense party. It’s for all you as well as without you, this could never have happened.” I smile wider than the Valles Marineris.
They all say they will try and drop by. I can’t wait.
I immediately call Esme and tell her the news. She never doubted me for a second and tells me she’s taking the rest of the day off and will pick me up at the Geology Building in half an hour or so.
Up in the Graduate Student offices, my comrades and cohorts break open the case of beer I had in the office fridge. As per ancient and consecrated customs, I was immediately drenched with beer as I walked in.
“Rock did it! Congratulations! Huzzah!” as I take a stream of foamy Special Export right in the mush.
“Fuckin’ right. But that was the easy part. Next month, I have to get married. This will have seemed easy in comparison. Of course, you’ve all been invited. But for now, let the secular festivities begin!” I shout and drain my first of many Master’s beers.
“Jeez, Rock. You smell like a brewery.” Es chuckles. “I guess your office mates didn’t forget the ceremony.”
“I barely escaped with my life.” I chuckled. Nothing was going to fracture this good mood.
Es and I pick up the pizzas and other party chow I’d ordered previously. Every one of the purveyors I had contracted with to provide the victuals gave me either a discount on my order or 150% of what for what I had asked. These were good folks whom I had patronized for the last two years.
The three half-barrels of beer I had ordered were delivered early and even included the ice-box carbonator and CO2 tank to make sure everyone got a tall, cold frosty.
The party kicked off at 1700 hours.
My idiot flatmates decided that free food was too much to pass on. They disdained geologists as land rapers and basic shills of corporate USA, but free beer and pizza ruled the day.
Howard the Blink, my congenitally blind flatmate, pulled out his enormous reel-to-reel sound system and we had free access to his 2,000+ reel collection of heritage jazz, early rock-n-roll, and other musical oddities.
Esme stayed a couple of hours, but when we began playing football with Little Marty, I mean, literally playing football, using him as the ball, tossing him across the living room; Es decided that discretion was the better part of making it out without a police record.
“Rock, I’m going home,” she tells me.
“Oh, no. Please stay. We’ve just started in on Karaoke Night.” I think I remember telling her.
“No, Rock. This is your party. I’ve had my fun and don’t want to get in the way. Go nuts. Call me tomorrow when you can. Be careful on the balcony, it’s a long way down,” She smiled at me with her incomparable smile.
“You’re not mad, are you?” I sheepishly ask.
“How could I be mad? I’m just a little tired and want to let you have our day. We’ll celebrate later together.” She smiles.
Yeah, I made the right choice.
The party kicked into high gear after that. Kegs were being drained, professors showed up, congratulated me again, and dove into the free beer and pizza like hungry grad students.
I hoped those three half-barrels were going to be enough.
Things I must admit were a bit blurry from that point onward. There was stair diving, beer pong, shotgun practice, a timed event utilizing a shaken can of beer and a church-key opener, and general high society type of alcohol-fueled hijinks.
We’re out in the county, but even the distance between neighbors didn’t preclude them from hearing our revelries. At about 0300, there’s a knock on the downstairs door. We look over the balcony and see a Sheriff’s car in the drive, lights ablaze.
Since it’s my party and I’ll snub who I want to, I wander downstairs to answer the door.
“Yep. What can I do you for?” I wobbily ask the uniformed gentlemen.
“We’ve got several noise complaints,” he says “Either calm it down or we’ll drag you all off to jail.”
I may be a couple of sheets to the wind, but my thoughts were still able to swim upstream. I look at the officer’s shiny badge and see it’s emblazoned: ‘1565’.
“Holy shit!” I exclaim, “Officer 1565! Remember me? The guy doing all the blasting out at the quarry?”
The officer looks at me and recoils in mock horror.
“You! What’s all this then?” he asks warily.
“It’s my thesis defense party. Two years of study, cunning, and cuteness. I was awarded my Master’s in Geology today. Its my defense blowout!” I laugh uproariously.
“Yeah. Ok. Well, keep it down.” He warns.
“Oh, yeah. Sure. That’s us, law and order all the way.” I chortle.
He leaves rubber on the asphalt as he peels out to points unknown.
I think we rolled the last drunk out of the house about 1000 the next day. It was a party that was spoken about in hallowed tones for years.
Esme and I were wed early the next month. It was a fairly quiet event with the ceremony held down at the lakefront. We both thought that was far too appropriate. My major professors all attended as did our friends, and somewhat extended family. It was a glorious day for a wedding and even more glorious observance.
The reception was held at a resort some 45 minutes north of the city. It was on one of the thousands of the state’s lakes and entirely fitting for us. There was the usual band, dancing, food, drink, and associated revelries.
Esme and I, now man and wife, departed for our honeymoon lodgings some 30 minutes distant out on the Interstate. It was a very 70s sort of place, with blue shag carpeting everywhere, circular bed, in-room hot tub, and enough cheese to satisfy a legion of mice.
The next day, we attended breakfast in the hotel’s revolving restaurant. Evidently, food tastes better when you’re slowly spinning. Gobble, gobble.
We return home later that day, pick up our traveling accouterments, and head off west to our well-deserved honeymoon. First stop, Wall Drug in South Dakota, a moral imperative. We’ve both visited this place innumerable times on field trips out west. Then on to Rapid City, Keystone and a couple of pegmatite mines. Back on the road the next day, it’s off to Yellowstone for our 5-day stay.
It almost got cut short as I couldn’t resist borrowing a T-handle, a tool used to open and close buried water valves, and set up shop this side of Old Faithful. I’d watch for an eruption and dressed in my field greens, I looked like a Forest Ranger. I made out to be turning on and off the geyser.
We thought it was hilarious, the real park rangers did not.
We spent the next four days hiking Yellowstone, fishing in the Yellowstone River, and generally doing all the usual touristy stuff tourists do.
We headed over to West Yellowstone in the neighboring state to visit a woodcarver I had met years ago. I had contacted him to carve a bear for me out of the finest Ponderosa Pine. It was my wedding present to Esme as she has an extensive collection of bears.
She was enthralled with it, but it did, on reflection, take up most of the back seat of the Nova. I should have been more specific in the dimensions of the thing when I ordered it for her.
Time moved forward and as much as we would have loved to stay, reality beckoned. We decided to make a detour south on the way back to see our old friend Sani back on the reservation. We spent several days out at Lago de Estrella pump station visiting with the folks there and having some time both in the field and talking with Sani.
I went over to the Spanner Ranch to talk with Javen face to face. He knew I’d already made my decision to continue my education. However, I wanted to see him again and thank him once more for the opportunity.
While at the Spanner Ranch, I asked to borrow his phone as I needed to check in to see if I had any messages. This was the longest I’ve been out of pocket in years.
I did indeed have some messages, and they were very perplexing. Luckily, Javen told me to make as many calls as I needed to sort things out.
Four hours later, I was back at the pump station to retrieve Esme from the clutches of Danny and Beth, Long John and Ace.
On the trip over to Cuba, I told Esme that there was a bit of change in our plans.
“What’s going on, Rock?” Esme asked worriedly “Is there some problem?”
“Well, not as such.” I replied, “It’s complicated. I had a call from overseas and I’m wanted to appear at a museum to speak with some researchers over there.”
“With whom?” Es asks.
“It’s a group of Polish and Japanese paleontologists. They’re doing some field reconnaissance in the Late Cretaceous and evidently have found an assemblage similar to what we found here in New Mexico. They know that I’m going for my Ph.D. and were wondering if I’d be interested in joining them. They’re real boneheads, that is, anatomy and physiology experts, and they need a rocknocker. They need someone familiar with Late Cretaceous stratigraphy and sedimentology…” I explained.
“OK, how long would you be gone?” Esme asks, panicky.
“Not me. Us. How long would we be gone?” I said.
“Minimum three months. I think I can make it work with the university. Could you take leave from work?” I ask, panicky.
“That shouldn’t be a problem, we haven’t even relocated yet. It’d just be a brief sabbatical, so I’m sure it wouldn’t be a problem.” She says.
“Phew! That’s a relief. Now, would you want to do this? I’ve been a bit presumptuous, but I figured I couldn’t just up and leave, especially now.” I say.
“Rock, we’re in this together. If you think it’s the right thing to do, then I’m all for it, 100%.” She smiles.
“That’s great. Let’s get to the café and I’ll flesh this out for you a bit more.” I reply.
“Oh, yeah. Where are we going?” she asks.
“Mongolia,” I reply.
To be continued…
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2019.10.05 04:30 Rocknocker Demolition Days, Part 28

That reminds me of a story.
Javen Spanner calls Jerry to have him remind me that we have a meeting planned and tonight would be a good time. I ask Jerry to call him back and accept for me.
Properly showered and decontaminated, I show up at the Spanner Ranch once again. I know where to park, I know which do to go to.
The butler greets me and takes my duster and hat as usual.
“Drawing room, Mr. Rock. Mr. Spanner is waiting.”
“Thank you, Jeeves.” I never did learn the guy’s real name.
Once again into the den. Javen greets me warmly and tells me to pour him and me a drink.
“Double bourbon and branch, neat?” I ask.
“Good man. I don’t like to have to tell anyone anything twice.” Javen remarks.
I decide to make two. I hand Javen his drink and ask what’s on his mind.
“First off, Sani sends his regards. Says you finally finished that work you were doing and just wouldn’t quit. I like that. Determination.” He says.
“Ah, Sani. He’s a real character, isn’t he?” I reply.
“He likes you. You could have gone off on him and gotten abusive. Hell, you’re twice, three times his size. But you stuck to your guns and got the job done. Good. Sani was impressed as well.” He says.
“It was…necessary. It was a key to figuring out the area.” I reply.
“Determined and motivated. I like that.” He hits a silent button on his desk.
I sip my drink and wonder curiously.
“Have a cigar” Javen says as he offers me his open humidor.
“Thanks. Cuban. Oh, very nice.” I say.
Javen leans back in his big leather chair and smile.
Jeeves walks in a few minutes later pushing a cart with some largish object on it, covered with a white tarp.
“Ready for another?” Javen asks.
“Sure,” I reply.
Javen goes and gets the drinks. Hands me mine and stands next to the cart.
“Curious?” he asks.
“A bit”, I reply.
He pulls off the tarp. “Here, this is for you.”
It is a hand-tooled leather, custom Western saddle, burnished until it shines. Silver Conchos, silver this, and silver that. It is exquisite.
“Whoa. Thank you, Mr. Spanner. But what…”
He cuts me off. “Come over here and look at this” he instructs me.
I go over to the saddle and he points out the name “Esme” hand-tooled into the fore and aft of the saddle. I know there are names for every part of a saddle, but I don’t know them, so front and back it is.
He also shows me where it was created: it was signed “Spanner Saddlery. Torreon, New Mexico”.
That’s it, I’m stumped.
“Whoa, Javen. Wow. What can I say but thank you?” I sputter.
“We take care of our own out here. You helped me, I help you. Thank you.” Javen says to me.
“Again, it’s beautiful. Esme will just love it.” I say.
“And you too when you give it to her.” He chuckles.
I smile and do my best ‘aw, shucks’ Andy Rooney routine.
“Now, come. Another drink and we will talk business.” Javen says.
We get our own drinks as Jeeves takes my keys to deposit the saddle in my truck.
“Now, Rock. I have a business proposition for you”, Javen says. “How much longer are you going to be in school?” he asks.
“At least a year until I finish and defend my thesis. Then maybe two or three more if I decide to pursue my Ph.D.” I explain.
“What would you say if I offered you a Vice President position at Spanner Enterprises once you finish your Master’s?”, Javen asks.
“I’m not sure,” I replied.
“Well, I am. I could use someone like you. Smart, determined, motivated. I’ve got so damn many irons in the fire, I can’t even count them much less keep control. I need someone like you. Good pay, good benefits, use of the whole Spanner Empire’s resources. What do you think?” he continues.
“Would that be here in Torreon? “ I ask.
“Depends where you want to live. I’ve got houses in Cuba, Torreon, Albuquerque, Farmington, Taos. Take your pick.” He says.
“Javen, I’m honored and I thank you. I will have to give this a lot of thought, though. Can I have some time to think it over? See, I might possibly be getting married when I graduate as well. So there’s another consideration.” I say.
“Take your time. Make sure before you leave New Mexico that I have all your contact information. It’s not time-critical. I know you need to finish your Master’s. But after that, you let me know what you want to do.” Javen explains.
“Absolutely, Javen. Let me chew it over for a while. I will definitely give you my decision as soon as I sort a few things out.” I say, still reeling.
“Well let’s have another drink and a spot of supper, shall we?” Javen smiles.
I don’t remember a thing from the ride back to camp that night. My mind was a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.
I awoke the next day to pummeling rain. A cold front had run headlong into a warm front and the results were leaking out all over northern New Mexico. It was windy, somewhat dark, and raining like a cow peeing on a flat rock. Most unusual weather for this part of New Mexico at this time of year.
My tent, well repaired, was high and dry so I decided it’d be madness to go into the field today. I’d never get across any of even the minor wadis and everything would be turning to sticky mud for the next couple of days. Luckily, John let me store Esme’s saddle in his house until Jerry and Bets left for Texas.
I had an unplanned day off. I had plenty of cigars, loads of beer and such and some work I could do while I was imprisoned. After 5 hours of mapping and re-correlating sections, I grew restive. Maybe some coffee would help. I wandered over to the office to see if anyone had made a recent pot.
It continued raining so I just slogged it over to the office in cargo shorts, T-shirt, and the cheap tennis shoes I bought in Cuba; I didn’t want to ruin my fuzzy-bunny field slippers in this mess. Plus, I was tired of all the shit I got every time I wore them.
John, Derek, and Ace were all in the office, can’t weld too much when it’s 100% humidity.
There was a pot of semi-fresh coffee and I helped myself to a cup.
“This weather normal? “ I asked.
“Not really” Ace replies.
“It happens, but not for years. You’re lucky to see this.” Derek adds.
John calls me over to the window, “Rock, take a look at this.”
The ditches we blasted and dug were filling with runoff water but seemed curiously ‘alive’.
“So, Dr. Science, what the hell’s that? He asks.
“Dunno,” I reply. “Let’s go find out.”
We all troop out in the rain and look into the filling culverts.
“What the fuck? “ Ace says.
“That’s weird,” I say and bend down to scoop up some of the bubbling water.
“Holy shit!” I exclaim, “Its toads. Thousands of toads!”
Seems there’s this species of estivating toad that makes its home in this part of New Mexico. They are the New Mexico Spadefoot Toad (Spea multiplicata) and go absolutely sex-crazy and reproductively obsessed when there’s a soaker like today. They’re not protected or anything, but unusual. They show up only once every few years and only for a day or so.
And a perfect way for me to supplement my bank account.
Dr. Nax wants are representative herpetofauna; herpetofauna meaning both reptiles and amphibians. And currently, we’re up to our hip boots in amphibians.
“John,” I ask, “You got a landing net by any chance?”
“No, but I’ll wager Jerry does out on his boat.”
We run over to Jerry’s house and ask if he has a landing net. He does, it’s in his boat out back, and we could borrow it, if we return it when we’re done.
“Will do” I yell as we run back to retrieve the net.
“Ace, take the net and start scooping out toads. I’ve got to get some buckets. I’ll give you a six-pack for helping me.” I yell.
“On it, Rock!” Ace yells back.
“Holy wow”, I think, “This is a bonanza! At even a buck or two each, it’s money in the bank!”
I run back with my buckets, mis-negotiate a corner, and go face-first into the wet, sloppy New Mexico mud.
“Fuck it. I don’t care. I’m washable.” I think as I run toward my meal ticket.
There were toads everywhere, particularly in the slit-trenches we built. They were full to overflowing with water. The toads burbled out with it.
I was trying to grab the slippery bastards and throw them in a bucket, but they were fighters. I was slipping and slopping around, and just getting covered in mud. I didn’t care. This was too much fun.
Ace slips and he joins the mudmen corps. He didn’t care as long as he earned his six-pack.
John was doing well and had gotten about a dozen of the croakers into my bucket when he joined the corps. Of course, we were all too polite to laugh…too much.
One after another, we all got covered thickly with mud. I had buckets of toads but kept going, maybe there were more than one species here. This was for SCIENCE!
Danny wanders over after some church-related meeting. Due to the flooding, the frothing, and the toads didn’t see the slit-trench and stepped right into it. He went all in three and a half-full feet.
Danny picks himself up as he asks what’s going on.
“Toads! We all yell back.
“Rock collects them for his museum. Get over here, these bastards are slippery.”
Figuring he’s already soaked and filthy, he does help out.
After an hour or so, I’ve got five five-gallon pickle buckets full of amphibians. I tell everyone to wait here, I’m going to get my truck.
Jerry walks over to see what all the commotion was and sees his whole crew, plastered with mud, sitting around and on my truck. We were all drinking beer, or Orange Fanta, as I had bought some in case Danny ever came back over to our side, actually as a mixer for some of the local firewater, smoking cigars and laughing like loons.
“Rock. You are a very bad influence on my workers” Jerry laughed as he shook his head.
I spent until 0330 the next day fixing, formalin-ing, and collating toads. There turned out to be four different species. I couldn’t tell the difference, but Dr. Nax could.
“Now that’s a representative herpetofauna,” I said to no one as I creaked back to my tent.
After a day to recover, Jerry comes over and asks if I’d like to ride the pipeline with him.
Once a week, someone takes the one-ton company pickup and rides from one end of the pipeline to the other for visual inspection. It’s a full day affair and Jerry thinks it’ll give me a good overview of areas I’d either normally avoid or not see.
I respond in the affirmative and we take off on our journey. It was a long, hot, dusty drive.
Truth be told, it was boring as hell. Sure, there were some places of interest, but since there were so many out here, these were moderately ‘OK’ versus the ‘Wow’ of the others I was working with.
We drive all morning and Jerry says, “Hey, I know a good lunch spot. You’d never find it if someone didn’t show it to you. Maybe you can tell us what it is.”
We drive for a while longer and pull off to the left and go seriously bush for a mile or so until we come to a clearing surrounded by short, badlands-type outcrops a few dozen feet tall.
We park and Jerry say “Come over here and look at this. What is it?”
I look at the ground and there are dozens of felled trees, all lying on top of one another. Huge trees, fully 40 or 50 feet in length and 3-4 feet in diameter, all lying around like thrown jackstraws. Thing was, they were all solid quartz. It was a fossilized Late Cretaceous log jam.
Jerry was right, I’d have never found this on my own.
I took seven rolls of film and ran through each one of them. I mapped as best I could and noted the locality on the geological maps I was building.
“Holy hell, Jerry”, I say. “If I’m reading this right, this is at the very top of the Late Cretaceous.”
“Yeah, and?” he says.
“This, if I’m reading this right, might be the New Mexico result of the Yucatan asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs. I’ve seen the tsunami deposits in Texas from the event, and the fallout in North Dakota and Nebraska. This could be a result of the asteroid impact tsunami, and the wiping out of local coastal forests. Jerry! This is incredibly important shit! Holy hell! This could be the find of a career!” I was jumping up and down.
“Oh, good. I’m glad I brought you here then.” He flatly says.
I just goggled at this lack of enthusiasm.
A few days later, after I map the fossil log jam and sample and document it as much as I can, I’m out riding around the country looking for likely looking outcrops. I come around the corner and run directly into Sani on his horse. He motions for me to pull over so we can talk.
Sani Yáʼátʼééh shi akʼis”, I greet him.
Yáʼátʼééh Kǫʼdził-hastiin”, Sani replies.
“Kind of hot today,” I say.
“Yeah. Dusty too.” He agrees.
I grab a couple of cold beers out of the cooler and hand one to Sani.
“What’s up? “ I ask.
“I was looking for you. You found the trees?” he asked.
‘Yeah. What a find. Jerry showed me. It’s an amazing locality.” I replied.
“I asked Jerry to take you there. You needed to see it, I was told,” he said.
I knew better than to ask ‘by who’?
“Thank you. Most appreciated.” I reply.
“Now you follow me. There is trouble ahead. Kǫʼdził-hastiin will fix it, I was told.”
“Sure. I’ll follow you. OK?” I said.
Wordlessly he hands me his empty beer, mounts his horse, and waits for me to follow.
I drive about 10 miles, right off the edge of my map area. We stop at a small collection of hogans, the native structures in which the locals sometimes live.
Sani motions me over to a structure on the side of the compound. Turns out it’s a hand-dug and relatively ancient water well.
The problem was, it was dry.
Sani tells me that it gives good water, sometimes running high, sometimes running low, but always sweet water. Now, it’s dry. This is bad.
Kǫʼdził-hastiin will make it work,” Sani tells me.
“Sani, I’ll do my best,” I reply.
I go over to my truck, get some climbing gear as its big enough to enter and a flashlight as its 35 or so feet deep and dark at the bottom. I back my truck up so I can tie off and rappel down into the well.
There’s some junk down here, tree branches and the like but the thing that I notice is the amount of very fine sand covering the bottom of the well. This well was choked off by the recent rains. Too much runoff, and when it subsided, it left a load of sand and clay which plugged up the porosity of the aquifer.
Easy fix. If you know what you’re doing.
I climb out of the well and Sani just looks at me with those big brown eyes and weather-beaten visage.
“No problem. I can fix it. Take a bit of time, but I’ll have it up and running by late this afternoon.” I say.
Sani shakes his head yes and goes back to talking with some of the other locals.
Two round trips and a few buckets of well-bottom schmoo later, I’m sitting on the back of my truck, wiring up a blasting harness. Sani comes over and asks how I’m doing.
“OK, just need to clear out some of that sand, create some new fractures and you’ll have plenty of water. I’ve got to blast, so keep everyone away. I don’t know the local lingo for FIRE IN THE HOLE, literally. So, just tell everyone to stay away until I give the all-clear.” I tell him.
Kǫʼdził-hastiin has spoken. It will be done.” Sani tells me.
What to use, what to use? Dynamite? Too messy, lots of leftovers after a shot. C-4? Nah. Probably too much shock. Primacord? No. What to use?
A lightbulb goes off. “Binary liquids!” No residue and I can use an empty beer can for the charge. I‘ve got lots of those. The aluminum will be atomized and won’t contaminate the water.
Beer. Is there nothing it can’t do?
I mix up 8 ounces of my new binary liquid explosive. It’s really stable and even a bullet out of a gun won’t set it off. I rig a blasting cap to the top of the beer can and spool out 50 feet of demolition wire.
Back in the bottom of the well, I dug a hole about two foot deep and set the charge. I cover and tamp it well so the blast goes down and sideways instead of up. I ascend up out of the well and toss all my gear into the back of my truck.
I pull away from the well a few feet and rig to blast. I look around and there’s no one to be found, even Sani’s disappeared. I hit the horn three times, yell fire in the hole, feeling a bit weird. But I stop and take a look around, just to be certain no one’s around.
Can’t see anyone, so I hit the horn again and go back to the blasting machine.
FIRE IN THE HOLE! Literally.
I say “HIT IT!” and push the big red shiny button.
There’s a hellacious THUMP and the ground literally shakes.
I quickly rewind what demo wire is left and wander over to the well and shine my flashlight down to the bottom. There’s a lot of dust and swirling, and if I listen carefully…
“I hear water. Good.” Sani says, sneaking up behind me and scaring the hell out of me.
I listen for a few minutes and don’t hear anything. I toss a small rock in and hear a rewarding splash.
“Mission accomplished,” I tell Sani.
“See, I was told Kǫʼdził-hastiin will fix it,” Sani says matter of factly.
Jerry and Betsy were hitching up their boat, getting ready for their annual fishing trip holiday down to South Padre in Texas. He calls me over for a confab.
“Rock, here are the house keys. I didn’t put the key to my gun cabinet on the ring since I figure you already have that covered. Please look after my place and keep the mud to a minimum,” He laughs.
“Don’t worry, Jerry. I’ll watch and take care of this place like it’s my own.” I reply.
“Help yourself to any food in the fridge or freezer and don’t worry about replacing it. It’ll just go bad otherwise. Hope you and Esme, that’s her name, right? Have a good time. See you September first. We’re gone.” He says.
Betsy comes over and gives me a quick hug. “Thanks for this Rock. I feel better leaving the house in good hands,” she says.
“Don’t worry about anything. We’ll take great care of your place and guard all your stuff. Now, GIT! And have a great vacation.” I tell her.
I decide to leave my tent up as I don’t want to tear it all down and it’ll give me a good place to unwind, smoke and do my mapping. I want to live in their house, not squat.
Long John brings Esme’s saddle over and we both stand there looking at it.
“Damn, Rock. Javen is tighter'n a bull's ass in fly time, and he gave you this? Holy hell. He must really like you. That saddles gotta be worth four or five thousand dollars, easy.” He notes.
“No shit?” as I had no idea what horse riding kit cost, “Did I tell you he offered me a job?”
“As what? Drinking and Boone companion?” John chuckled.
“No. Vice President of Spanner Enterprises,” I reply.
“No shit?” John goggles, “People would kill for a job like that. When do you start?”
“Don’t know. Don’t even know if I’m going to take the job. I’ve got to finish my Master’s and that’s a year. Then, Ph.D.? I don’t know. Then there’s Esme.” I explained.
“Damn. That’s a lot on your plate. Hell, you take that job, and I’ll be working for you as Spanner Enterprises owns 50% of this plant. Now there’s a revolting thought.” He laughs.
“I just don’t know,” I tell him. “You’re right, things just got a lot more complicated.”
A couple of days later, I’m out mapping to the west. I note that I’m only a few miles shy of the Scavada wash. The next thing I know, I’m parking at the Scavada Trading Post and Silver Bullet Station.
“Hello, the trading post!” I yell as I enter.
“Hello “Kǫʼdził-hastiin. Enter!” Fred chuckles.
“Where the hell did you hear that?” I ask.
“News travels fast on the res. You’re quite the celebrity.” Fred tells me.
Fred grabs two beers and we stand around the front desk, chewing things over.
“Sani speaks highly of you. I heard of your introductions out at the grim Mount Badass. He pranked you good. He likes you.” Fred chuckles.
“You know Sani?” I ask semi-rhetorically.
“Everyone knows Sani,” Fred replies.
The door opens and two locals come in. Fred greets them.
They turn to look at me and say “Yáʼátʼééh Kǫʼdził-hastiin”.
I guess I am becoming a local celebrity.
They stopped in to see if Fred would spot them a beer or two on credit.
Fred says: “Guys, you know my rules. No credit. No free beer. Unless you have money or something to trade…”
One of the older gents turns to me and says, “Maybe Kǫʼdził-hastiin would like to hear of our stories from the war.”
Fred looks at me and says “For return of a beer. Tales for booze.”
I said I’d rather like hearing of their exploits.
They were Code-Talkers during World War Two. No matter what age they were, meet an older male local and they were a Code Talker. But if there were Talkers or not, they provided some entertaining stories. Definitely worth a beer or two.
After a couple of hours, they left and I had an idea.
“Fred, my girlfriend’s coming for a visit. Is that jewelry there on pawn or is it for sale?”
“Most of its ‘dead pawn’; they pawned it and never redeemed it. I sell it to help keep this pile of shit running”, he replies.
“That’s quite the collection. Does it come with a Kǫʼdził-hastiin discount?” I ask.
“Make me an offer.” Fred chuckles.
I leave an hour or so later with 5 exquisite native necklaces, a couple of pairs of earrings and a silver concho belt. Total cost, 75 bucks. Lots of turquoise, lots of bone and shell, all quite striking.
Well, Christmas is coming and all that.
In our last letter, I sent Esme a map detailing directions to Cuba. I wanted to meet her there, have a spot of lunch or dinner, pick up any supplies she might need and then have her follow me out to Lago de Estrella gas plant.
Well, today was the day she was driving in.
I waited for her at the Atomic Bar. It had a good view of the only approach into town from Albuquerque and it was cool and the beer was cheap.
Finally, I see a gun-metal gray Chevy Nova come wheeling into town.
She’s here!
I run outside and flag here down. The reunion was quite moving. I had missed her more than I had realized. A monumental decision was made that moment, that day, standing in the dusty parking lot of the Atomic Bar.
“Hungry?” I ask her.
“Famished.” She replies.
“Let’s go across the street. The food there I incredible.” I suggest.
“Lead the way.”
After checking for the nonexistent traffic, we go over to the Cuba Café, enter, and grab an empty table.
Sindy comes over with menus and asks if I’d like my usual.
I reply “Yes, make it two.”
Esme looks at Sindy and Sindy stars daggers back.
“So, you’re a regular here? I would have expected that across the street.” Esme chuckles.
“Oh, I’m just a regular celebrity around these parts,” I say.
Sindy returns with our beers and I say “Where are my manners? Sindy this is Esme, Esme this is Sindy. She helped me out when I first hit town.”
“Hello. Nice to meet you” Esme says.
“Yeah, hi” Sindy glacially says and shuffles off.
“Helped you out? How so?” Esme asks.
“Well, she brought me my laundry once; gave me the lay of the land. All very proper and above board. Nothing else. She’s married, well, separated. Everything was nonphysical and friendly.” I say.
“Oh, I see. Well, it was good you made friends while you were out here. The tone of your letters made it sound like you were forced into being a monk or hermit.” Esme says.
“I was simply pining away for my one, true love” I poured it on with a bucket.
“Good. You should. Now, tell me all about Cuba, New Mexico.” She says.
“Nope, you tell me all about Alpine, Texas first,” I reply.
We spent the rest of the day filling each other in about our respective summers. It was so good to see her, I hope she likes the crowd out at the gas plant.
“Well, we best be off. It’s not that far to the plant, but the roads are kind of windy and I got lost several times. Best take it slow and be certain.” I say. “Need anything from town before we head out?”
“No, I’m good. Gassed up in Torreon, so I’m still pretty full.” She says
“OK, then. Let’s go to your new home.” I snicker.
We arrive at the gas plant without getting lost nor sidetracked. I show here where to park and grab her luggage.
“Welcome to Lago de Estrella!” I say as we enter Jerry and Betsy’s place.
“Wow. Sure beats the tent I’ve been living in these past three months.” Esme says.
I show her around and she says she’s tired but would love a shower.
I show her the place and grab some towels for her.
“Where do you want your luggage”, I ask, sheepishly.
“In the bedroom, silly. Where else?” She says.
The cosmic karma fairy has indeed been generous to Kǫʼdził-hastiin.
The next day, Esme says she’d like a day off after her long drive and field camp.
I need to go out and map a few more areas.
She says: “Go. That’s what you’re here for. Don’t let me alter your plans. Knowing you, you’ve got time mapped out to the second. Go. I’ll be fine.”
“If you go out, watch for Danny and Beth, they’ll try and convert you. Ace will try to be his most flattery goofy self, he’s harmless. Watch out for the tall character, he’s Long John. He’s into pranks and practical jokes. Again, mostly harmless.” I say.
“OK, go. I’ll probably be napping anyways. I’m beat after a full summer of climbing mountains.” She says.
“Oh, yeah. Stay out of the spare bedroom. Jerry doesn’t want anyone in there.” I lie. It’s where I hid the saddle.
“Sure. No problem. Now go so you can get done and get back.” She tells me.
Yep, now I know I made the right decision.
I drive out and look at my field notes. I need to map an outcrop of coal where the locals have been filching the stuff for use in heating and cooking. It’s not technically illegal, as this stuff is local, at least in this outcrop, low yield and never be targeted for mining. But, it does technically belong to the company that has leased the lands. Still, it’s not very much and…
I stop as Sani is on his horse, right in the middle of the road.
After the usual greetings, he instructs me to follow him.
Here we go again.
Right to the coal outcrop where I was headed.
“Sani, what’s the deal?” I ask.
“Many people depend on the coal here. But look, there is no coal here, just rock. I was told Kǫʼdził-hastiin will know what to do. I was told where to find you, and now I bring you here.” Sani says.
“Sani”, I say, “This is weird. I was planning on coming here today. I told no one except Esme. Oh, yeah. My girlfriend is in town, I’d sure like you to meet her.” I say.
“This I know. I will meet her. But first you need to talk to rocks.” Sani direct.
“OK, Sani. No problem. Let me look at what’s going on and I’ll see if I can figure it out.”
“You will. That’s what I’ve been told.” He says.
I get my kit out of the truck and attack the outcrop. It’s about 60 feet wide and 20 feet tall. It’s mostly low grade, sub-bituminous coal. Late Cretaceous in age, Fruitland Formation. I start to map the outcrop after photographing it and get a sense of what was going on here during deposition.
The rock Sani referred to was a medium-coarse grained sandstone. I start to dig around it and see it’s a point-bar deposit. That means it’s not laterally extensive and hasn’t displaced the coal. It’s just a fluvial distributary or levee-break sand that cut through the coal swamp, probably from a storm, and deposited a blob of sand in the middle of the coal swamp. Everything got buried and lithified, and well, Bob’s your uncle.
It’s a textbook case of a fluvial point bar, so I photograph it some more and retire to my truck tailgate to update my maps and integrate this discovery into my maps. Plus, it’s hotter than the hinges of hell, so I grab a cigar and a beer.
“Please, make it two,” Sani says after sneaking up on and startling me and making me bash my skull on the top of the truck cap.
“Sneaky Indian” I chuckle as I hand him a cold one.
Kǫʼdził-hastiin talk to rocks?” Sani asks.
“Yes, I have. I’ve got it figured out. It’s a sand bar from an ancient river. Just continue to remove the coal around it and it’ll eventually just fall away.” I tell him.
“But that will take much time. Maybe past winter.” He looks hopefully to me.
“Or, I could hurry its departure; if that’s what you want,” I say.
Sani closes his eyes, nods, and smiles.
This one’s going to be quick and dirty. There’s no one that I can see for miles, except for Sani. I haven’t gone old school for a long while and have plenty of dynamite. I’m going to show that sandstone what for.
Sani watches as I pound a stake in several places around the sand body.
“Shot holes” I explain.
Weird, a couple of the shot holes I poke yield a feeble flow of water. Out west, they’re termed “tiñaja”, a coal that acts as a spring. The water is blood red, rusty, and foul-smelling.
Hydrogen sulfide. Definitely not potable water as some are.
I go to tell Sani what I plan and he’s disappeared again. Damn, he’s stealthy.
I rig it up old school. Full sticks of 60% in each hole, blasting caps with super-boosters tied to Primacord. All leads tied back to one length of Primacord and that terminated in a safety fuse igniter. Pull the pin, pop the cap, the fuse ignites and heads for the Primacord. Primacord detonates at 25,000 feet per second, actuates all the blasting caps and boosters simultaneously, and boom. No more sandstone.
Since we’re out in the middle of nowhere, no houses or hogans in sight, I didn’t bother with cutting down the charges. Sure, I could have gotten away with less, but where’s the fun in that?
I lay on the horn three times to warn the mule deer, rattlesnakes, prairie dogs, and Race Runners that the show is about to begin.
FIRE IN THE HOLE as I yell even there are no people anywhere in sight, even after my horning.
“HIT IT!” I say out loud and pop the safety fuse cap.
I get in my truck and back up about 75 yards, perpendicular to the blast path.
Three minutes later, there is a titanic explosion as all eight stick of 60% detonate simultaneously. Evidently, as I found out later, with water flowing through the cleats and fractures of the coal, there will be coal seam gas.
I didn’t know that at this point. I do now. Coal seam gas is eminently flammable.
The explosion was heard in Cuba I found out later.
Well, the sandstone point-bar disappeared and there were piles of coal lying everywhere. A new outcrop of coal had appeared and it was free of sand bodies. Just nicely fractured, low-grade coal for whoever needed it.
I pulled my truck up to further inspect the results. Damn, that was a bit more energetic than I had counted on. Still, it all worked out. No need for mining coal, just gather it up.
I make my notes and enter the data in my field notebook and blaster’s required paperwork when someone grabs my shoulder from behind.
After landing back on Earth, I see Sani standing there with a smile on his face.
“I was told Kǫʼdził-hastiin would fix it. You have. Thank you.”
“Fix it? I almost put it into orbit. Tell whoever comes here for coal there’s bad gas here too. Hydrogen sulfide smells like rotten eggs. There should be no problem out in the open like this, but later if digging here, watch out for enclosed spaces. That stuff is nasty, it’ll kill you in low concentrations. If I get a sign made can you have it translated into the language so they might know?”
“No need Kǫʼdził-hastiin. They will know. They will be told. They will heed.” Sani says.
“OK, then. Well, do you want me to help clean some of this mess up? It did kind of go everywhere.” I asked.
“No, Kǫʼdził-hastiin. You did what was needed. Thank you.” And with that, he turns, gets on his horse and leaves.
Since I’m out in the field, I notice I need gas. What better excuse for a Scavada visit?
“I figured that was you”, Fred says over a cold Silver Bullet. “Really rattled the rafters. That old illegal mine? Hell, it’s gone now, I bet.”
“More or less. It’s just a lot safer and available.” I reply.
“Oh, I hear your main squeeze made it in. When you going to drag her out here so we can meet?” Fred says.
“Never. She’s too pure for the likes of you.” I chuckle.
“An insult! I am wounded!” he feigns real injury.
“Hey. I’ll be on my best behavior. Drag her out here. I’d like to meet her and tell her all sorts of lies about your sordid past out here.” He laughs.
“Yeah. We’ll see. Maybe in a week or so,” I say.
“Give her the saddle yet?” he asks.
[Stunned] “How the hell did you know about that?” I ask.
“Ain’t no secrets on the res, Kǫʼdził-hastiin.” He chuckles.
I spend the next week out in the field. Sometimes Esme comes along, but she prefers to just take a bit of a breather after her field studies.
Time is wrapping up for me. After Lago de Estrella, I’m off to Fort Peck Reservoir in Montana. I’m going to meet Dr. Jak and the museum folks there to recover some dinosaur fossils found the previous season. They need my truck and me back on the job.
Esme has a new job waiting for her back in Brew-city. Parting will be such sweet sorrow.
So, I plan to make the best of it with the time we have until life intrudes and we have to go our separate ways; for a while at least.
Out in the field, we’re at the fossil log jam Jerry showed me. I had to show Esme and get her ideas, she’s a geologist as well. I’m on the ground, slowly digging around one tree trunk, thinking I saw a glint of bone in the tangled mess.
Esme walks over and nudges me. “Rock, there’s some guy on a horse over there. He’s just sitting there, watching us.”
To be continued…
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2019.10.04 05:31 Rocknocker Demolition Days, Part 27

That reminds me of a story.
Stunned, he looks at me, looks at the cooler, looks at his horse, looks at me again, and calmly says, “I prefer Olympia.”
You old fraud.
“You speak English? “ I ask idiotically.
“Yes. I do.” He replies.
“Then why…what the hell…what the fu…what?”
For once, I am stumped for words as I fish a frosty Oly out of the cooler and hand it to him.
“I was bored. I saw you and wanted to see what you were doing. I decided to play a joke and see if I could make you come back. It’s too quiet out here all alone.” He says.
“I’m only here for another month or so… You know you cost me a lot of time.”
“Who owns time?” he flatly says.
I just shake my head, pop a cold one, and sit on my truck’s tailgate.
He follows and I shove the cooler out of the way to make room.
“Have a seat. Care for a cigar?” I ask.
“Thank you.” As he takes the proffered smoke and it disappears into his tunic.
“OK, so what’s your story?” I ask.
“Yes. My name is Tsela; it means ‘stars lying down’ in the language. But now, most call me “Sani”, ‘the old one’. You will call me by that name.” He tells me.
“How you doing, Sani? My name is Rock. I’m from the North and doing my geology work…”
Another manly handshake.
“Sani knows who you are. They say you are ‘Tsé-łigaii’, ‘White Rock’; but Javen Spanner tells me more. Now they say you are ‘Kǫʼ dził-hastiin’ ‘Fire mountain man’.”
“You know Javen Spanner?” I ask.
“Yes. Javen Spanner, he’s my friend. Friend to many. Friend to you. You then are my friend.” He informs me.
“I like that. Thank you, Sani. Please, in my language, I’m just ‘Rock’” I say.
“Not just Rock. You order fire. Many before were worried you were maybe not a good man. Maybe work for government or worse. Maybe take much from our land. It has happened before. We were cautious. We watch you. But you help people. You move rocks, make ground shake. Make well stop burning. You order fire. Not ‘just Rock’, ‘Kǫʼ dził-hastiin’” He says.
“Thank you, Sani. Please, just call me Rock”, I say.
Sani and I spent the morning getting to know each other. He had many stories to tell, and I returned in kind with a few of mine. He was most affable when he wasn’t screaming and pitching rocks at you.
“Well, Sani. It’s been real, but I have much to do and a short time to do it. I must be going. Will I see you again?” I ask.
“If I am told, you will…” he replies.
I pondered that reply for weeks.
On the drive out, I see a Gila Monster sunning itself on the side of the road. Into the bucket went a cool, though angry, $100.
I drive back to camp and spend a few hours updating my maps and sections. Hot damn, the grim Mt. Badass came through! All my sections tie and now I can make some sense out of what went on out here all those millions of years ago.
I see I need gas and my beer supply was suffering, so I decide it’s time for a trip to town. I clean up a bit and walk over to my truck.
I see Beth out hanging laundry.
Yáʼátʼééh!” I cheerily call to her and wave.
She glacially ignores me.
I snickered all the way to Cuba.
I gas up at Devlin’s Shrill station and motor on down to Javen’s liquor store. They had actually been able to source so of my more usual potables. I buy a few cases of Blatz, Pabst, and Schlitz, along with a few bags of ice.
Manna from heaven.
Then I see there’s actually a public library here in Cuba. I take an hour or two to research just how one goes about dealing with cranky western rattlesnakes.
Over at the Cuba Café, I walk in and greeted by several patrons, whom I don’t recall ever meeting before. They greeted me by name. It’s was all quite surreal.
Mandy, a friendly waitress, comes over and says: “Diablo Sandwich, heavy on the salsa verde, and a Santa Fe Porter, right?”
Am I getting that predictable?
“Yep. Oh, is Sindy here?” I ask.
“Not today. She’ll be in later in the week. But we’re closed for the Fourth.” She tells me.
“The Fourth, when is it?” I’ve completely lost track of days.
“On the Fourth…?” she says warily.
“No, sorry. What day?”
And today’s Thursday.
Damn, I need to get to Albuquerque and replenish my blasting stocks. Cuba doesn’t have the specific items I need.
I decide against a third lunch pint and drive back to the pump station. John’s out loafing about as its late afternoon by now.
“Hey, John. What’s up?”
“Not much. Just thinking about the Fourth of July party. We have a real blowout every year. You’re invited, you know.” He says.
“Yeah. Cool and all. Damn, that means I have to get to Albuquerque tomorrow in case the Hardware Stores need to order in some of my supplies.” I muse.
“What? You need to go to Alb? So do I. When we going?” John asks.
“Hey, I have a more open schedule. You can ride with me, I guess, tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow’s fine, but I’m not ridin’ in that back-buster you call a truck. I’m drivin’, and you’re ridin’ shotgun.” He smiles.
“OK, I guess. When you want to head out?” I ask.
“It’s for some company business, so, 9:00 o’clock?” he says.
“Works for me,” I reply
Later that afternoon, I rope John and Ace into helping me corral some rattlesnakes. I need an infusion of cash and I figure if I can bag some, I’ll call Dr. Nax and he can wire me some interim funds.
Armed with a capture stick, a length of rebar, bent into a Shepard’s Crook, and a stouter version of my remote control lasso staff, we head out back to find us some slithery snappy serpents.
Ace is carrying a .38 caliber sidearm as he’s not too keen on snakes. Since I’m wearing my .454, he figures he can provide backup. John goes in unarmed.
“I’ll find ‘em, you grab ‘em.” he says.
We go out back and John grabs the piece of tin where we found the snakes before. He flips it over and I lunge.
But there was nothing there.
“What the hell…” I say.
“Oh, no worries. Sometimes when they get exposed, they move. Let’s try over there.” John suggests.
We find another likely looking piece of tin and John flips it over. There’s at least a half-dozen agitated rattlers underneath.
I smile, “Easy money”, and go in for the kill.
Suddenly a gunshot is heard. Ace stands there, white, ashen, and panting.
The snakes scatter.
“Ace, what the fuck?” John and I say together.
“I saw snakes. Snakes. I hate them damn things. I panicked.” He says.
“Look, Ace, I’ve got to collect them intact. If you’re that scared, go home. Otherwise, holster that hogleg and just stand back.” I say.
“OK, Rock. Sorry. I freaked.” Ace apologizes.
“Yah, OK. No sweat. Now, let’s try that again.” I say.
Between John’s uncanny method of locating them, Ace’s staying out of the way, but covering our backs; in just under an hour, I have 4 gunny sacks with over a dozen cranky rattlesnakes.
“Now what?” John asks.
“Now, we head back to camp and deposit these critters in the cold box,” I say.
“Oh, I get it. Chill them down, then administer the coup de gras”, John says.
The gas company has a large freezer chest in the odorant shed for storing all kinds of nasty, malodorous chemicals. Most need to be kept cold as they’re so highly concentrated and must be contained if they spill.
There’s lots of room for my four gunny sacks, and they slide right in.
I then go over to the shed next to John’s teepee and set out my ethanol, formalin, hypos, needles, a 5-gallon bucket with dilute formaldehyde, and animal capture tags. I start filling out each tag with the pertinent data as to date, time, species (if known), location, and curation number. All the same data is entered into a separate ‘animal capture book’ to fully document the critters captured.
After an hour, all good snakes have gone to sleep. I bring one bag over and wearing a pair of borrowed welder’s gloves, extract a snoozing serpent. I administer 10cc’s of intercardiac ethanol. Death is instantaneous and painless. All good snakes go to heaven.
Then I take another hypo full of formalin and inject the animal from nose to tail with the preservative.
Tie on a toe-tag, as it were, record the data, and into the pickle bucket we go.
Ka-ching! Money in the bank.
Jerry lets me use the company phone to call Dr. Nax. I tell him of the lizards and snakes and he’s well pleased. He tells me that he’ll wire my bank a cool $500 on account.
So, it’s road trip Friday to Albuquerque the next day with John piloting his ’66 Camaro down the highway.
John likes to show off his ride. I’m glad his Camaro didn’t have wings.
We make it to Albuquerque in record time. John makes this run monthly to drop off record charts at the gas company and pick up new ones for the next month’s compression and gas-passage records.
That takes all of an hour and John decides it’s a good idea for me to buy him lunch before we go explosives shopping.
I was flush with cash, for once, so I agree. We have an incredible feed at a local Mexican restaurant. It was cheap, authentic Mexican fare, not that Tex-Mex crap. In great quantities. I hoped afterward I’d still be able to stuff myself back into John’s Camaro.
We try several different hardware stores and gun shops, but none carry the types of items for which I was looking. After our fifth disappointment, we ask the clerk behind the counter if he knows where we might find such a place.
“Um, yeah. Try out by Kirtland AFB (Air Force Base). There are some gun shops in the area there that should have what you’re looking for.”
“Thanks.” We reply and take off, flying low, in John’s Camaro.
We find several shops, as we were told, around the AFB perimeter. Our second choice has everything I need and it’s all in stock.
Christmas in July.
John gets bored with all the paperwork we have to go through to make the purchase nice and legal, so he wanders around the gun shop taking in the scenery.
I have several boxes of ordinance and reloads for my sidearm and shotgun that needs to fit in John’s car. Neither of us is keen to schlep this stuff through the city’s busy streets. The store clerk calls us over and gives us the passcode for the back loading bay gate.
“Just drive back there, and we’ll help you load all this.” He says.
We thank him and head for John’s car.
We wheel in and load up. The Camaro’s trunk just fits all of my purchases. With a wave and squeal of tires, we’re back on the road to Lago de Estrella.
We’re about one-third of the way back to the pump station when John hits the shoulder and jams on the brakes. I thought he had swerved to miss an animal on the road or avoid a head-on collision. We slew to a dusty stop.
There was a roadside fireworks stand he wanted to visit.
“Damn it, John. Next time, a little warning?” I asked.
John smiles broadly, walks over to the fireworks vendor’s and buys a good portion of the stand’s stock.
“Aren’t you buying anything?” John asks.
I just spent the better part of $400 on high and low explosives. I told him I had enough.
“OK, your call.”
“Well…maybe a few of those bigger skyrockets.” I finally cave and buy a few.
We are flying low back to camp and I ask John if there are ever cops out here watching traffic.
“Sometimes. But they’ll never even see this car.” As he pushes the accelerator further south.
“What if this one time they do and see we’re carrying enough explosives to outfit a third-world insurrection?” I query.
John eases up a bit on the gas. Prudence over pride wins again.
We did stop in Cuba so I could pick up some additional liquid refreshments
Fourth of July! A national holiday. A day off work for all. A day of rest, revelry, and blowing shit up.
For Country! For Patriotism! For Freedom! For The Hell of It!
I spent a good portion of the day drafting my maps in my tent. I knew the real festivities wouldn’t kick off until the late afternoon. Derek drops by my tent with a cold beer for me to wish me a happy Fourth and ask what my plans were for today.
“Just some map making, rock collating, and writing up my geological reports,” I replied.
“Oh, I thought with all your explosives and it being the Fourth of July…” he said.
“Well, the day is still young. Let’s see how it goes.” I reply.
Ace drops by with similar intent. As does John, Rufus, and Derek. They all tell me about the mid-afternoon pot-luck in the office and how I’m invited.
“Oh, I’ll be there. Make no mistake. But for now, I’ve got things that I need to do.” I beg off.
They all agree that it’s best to leave me to my own devices and wait until after the feed to break out the festivities.
I couldn’t cook in my tent, so my contribution to the pot-luck feed was a case of Blatz beer and a bottle of Wild Turkey Rye 101 whiskey.
Everyone there said they had expected nothing less.
It was a sumptuous repast, ranging from Indian fry bread to fried kingfish, hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, coleslaw, to a dozen different Jello molds to cake, pies, and cookies. My beer and whiskey was most appreciated, even by the wives of some of the crew.
Danny and Beth made certain to stay away from me as far as humanly possible.
But the rest of the camp saw me as just a regular Joe, one of the crew and someone just as weirdly normal as the next guy.
After eating, John drags me over to the machine shop.
“Here”, he says “Take this hand truck and drag that anvil over to the other side of the road. I’ll get the other.”
“Now what?” I ponder.
John sees my quizzical look and says: “It’s our 4th of July tradition. Anvil launching Every year, we see who can shoot an anvil highest and have it land closest to the launch pad.”
This sounds like actual fun.
“How do you work it?” I ask.
“Well, the big anvil, the one you’re toting goes on the bottom, its 350 pounds. In the center there’s a hole one and a half inches deep. We put black powder, gun powder or ‘special mixtures’ into the hole, tamp it down, lay down some cannon fuse, then set the smaller anvil, it’s 100 pounds, on top. We light the fuse and run like hell. Danny uses a theodolite to figure out the height it goes. Winner gets the prize.”
“And that is?”
“A free day off work!” John laughs.
“Cool. Guess I’ll just sit and spectate then.”
John smirks a snarky smile, “Yeah, sure you will.”
We set the anvils across the road from the gas plant, that way if anything goes haywire, nothing will get damaged.
A crowd gathers.
John goes first. He loads the hole, sloppily, with coarse gunpowder, flattens it with his hand, lays on a piece of fuse and two helpers set the projectile.
The fuse is lit and 10 seconds later, 100 pounds of iron is tumbling end over end. It impacts the dry desert floor with a considerable thud some 15 or so feet away.
John’s statistics are recorded.
I’m just standing there thinking about all the things they’re doing that could be done better.
But, not my pony, not my race. I pop another beer, slurp a bit, top it off with a little potato squeezing’s, and stand back.
Derek goes next, in much the same manner; but with a finer grade powder. Impressive height, but it lands over 30 feet distant.
I’m chewing a hole through my tongue trying not to say anything.
Jerry has his turn; as does Rufus, Ace, and Chance. All surprisingly similar results. 110 feet plus or minus five in height, nine to thirty feet from the pin on impact.
Each one tumbling end over end in flight.
Most egregiously inefficient.
I can’t take it any longer. Danny is on deck while everyone nips off for a cold beer or to return a body-temperature one. A 15-minute break is called.
I walk over and say to Danny. “Hey, want to win a day off?”
“What? Oh, it’s you.”
“Yeah, it’s me. I can give you some pointers and I can all but guarantee you will win. No cheating, just better design.”
“Yeah, yeah. Like you’re the pro…”
“Yeah, that’s right, Scooter. I’m the motherfucking pro from Dover. Now, want a free day off or what?”
He looks at me. I just smile goofily and shrug my shoulders.
Yelling at his wife was one thing; but a free day off, with pay?
“Yeah. OK. What do I need to do?” he asks.
“OK, here’s the deal, Sparky. Carefully grind your powder charge as fine as you can. Put it between two pieces of paper towel and roll it with a rolling pin. Then pour in your charge around the fuse, don’t just let the fuse sit on top like these others do. Jam it down in there. Then tamp the powder as tightly as you can, carefully. Use a wooden clothespin. Now, get some axle grease and make a ring around the shot hole. Not too much, you’re just trying to make a gasket. Then, get some card stock, or piece of thin rubber, and cut out a gasket. Make it as big as you can, but it has to cover the whole axle grease area. That’s going to give you uniform dispersion once the charge fires. With it being finely ground, there’s more surface area. More surface area means faster burn. Faster burn, more pressure. More pressure, more boom. Well, there you go. That’s it.”
I quickly resume my previous ‘stand and watch while slurping beer’ posture.
Danny runs home to grind his powder. I go and drag the captain’s chair out of my tent.
Like Grandad always said, “Why stand when you can sit?”
The crowd begins to filter back and they ask where Danny is.
“Dunno. He won’t talk to me”, I reply. “I think he ran home for a minute.”
People just mill around and basically ignore Danny when he returns and begins to ready his shot.
He starts doing what I had outlined for him and he looks at me at every juncture to see if I approve. I surreptitiously nod my head every time yes.
I put down my beer and wander over to help him set the flight anvil.
“Easy, but once its set, we really need to lean on it. Get all the air out from under that gasket. OK?” I whisper conspiratorially. “Carefully, give it a few wiggles. Really seat it good.”
I walk back over to my observation post and wouldn’t you know it, someone had left a cold beer in my chair. How nice.
“OK,” Danny says. “Time for my shot. John, can you do the theodolite duties?”
John affirms and focuses the instrument in, awaiting the ceremonial fuse lighting.
Danny lights the fuse and hauls ass away.
FWSSST! 10 seconds later, there’s this huge KA-BOOM and the anvil takes flight.
It flies straight and true, no tumbling. It reaches the top of its ballistic arc and falls back to earth; to impact, foot first, 5 feet from the launch site.
John looks at the theodolite and yells “Holy crap! 138 feet. A new record!”
Everyone looks over to me and I just continue to work on my beer. Which is hard to drink when you’re smiling as broadly as I was.
I had to say something, so I remark: “Pfft. Not too bad for a bunch of amateurs.”
“Oh, yeah. Like you could do better?” John asks, knowing I’d never back down from that kind of challenge.
“Well…” I say, “How attached are you to these anvils?”
“Oh, we need them for work,” Jerry says. “But you do your worst, if you bust one or both, I’ll get new ones.”
“I’m to be held harmless. No matter what?” I say.
“Hey. It’s the Fourth. It’s tradition. Go nuts.” Jerry says.
“I’ll be right back.” And I hotfoot it over to my truck.
10 minutes later I explain to everyone that they need to be inside some sort of stout shelter. I don’t know if either anvil can withstand what I dreamed up. If they shatter, it’d be like a large hand grenade going off. After some reflection, we move the anvils off further away, some 300 yards, or so.
Everyone can watch from the office, the walls there are concrete and the windows thick double-glazed thermopane. It should be adequate.
I hope.
I run the demo wires back to the office and make certain all animals, human and otherwise, are accounted for.
“Ready?” I ask.
“Green” Ace answers. I give him a solid thumbs-up.
“Clear north?”
“Clear north!”
South, east and west. All clear.
Danny and Derek make like my air horn, with three vocal loud blasts.
I look around the room and ask once again: “Clear?”
I hand the detonator to Danny and tell him “HIT IT!”
With a mile-wide grin, he expertly mashes down the big red button.
There’s huge cloud of smoke and dust where the two anvils previously stood.
John runs out to see if he can spy the smaller anvil. To no avail.
I walk outside, look at my watch, and say: “Shhhh! Wait for it.”
“FWOOSH!” As the flight anvil impacts heavily some 300 yards away, not too far from the launch site.
We run over and see both anvils had survived. The flying anvil we could rock back and forth to loosen and get it out of the ground.
The base anvil needed Ace with the backhoe to dig it out of the ground. The explosion of my ‘secret recipe’ punched it a full 14 inches into the desert floor.
“Damn.” John whistles, “Wish I could have seen how high that flew.”
“Given the flight time and my rough calculations, I’d say around 325 feet”, I reply.
The festivities continued until dark when the fireworks were broken out. Bottle and sky-rockets, firecrackers, whistlers, smokers, sparklers; all the traditional Fourth of July low tech pyrotechnics.
Boom! Bang! Pow! Ooh! Ahhh!
I wanted to conduct a little experiment, so I pull out one of the large skyrockets I had purchased with John on our road trip. I pried the plastic nosecone off and insert a ball of C-4 from the bar I had in my pocket.
Question: Would a commercial skyrocket’s detonation shockwave be sufficient to set off a small charge of C-4?
Answer: Yes. Yes, it would.
The rest of the evening was Bang! Pow! Blam! KER-FUCKING-BLOOEY!
A most enjoyable holiday.
I was out in the field solid the next four or five days, but my truck had begun to act hinkey.
Trouble starting, low voltage, lights seemed dim, unexplained stalling.
Great. Truck trouble.
John see me faffing around my truck, trying to diagnose the problem and wanders over.
“Trouble with your truck?” he asks.
“Yep.” And I gave him the rundown of various recent issues.
“Your alternators’ shot.” He tells me.
I do know what the alternator is and I’m not crazy about the cost of labor and parts.
“Limp it into Cuba and it’ll run you $100-150, parts and labor. Yank it out, and I’ll run it into town, get a refurbed replacement, and I’ll help you put it back in. Cost you 35 bucks.”
“You’d do that? Thanks.”
Danny sees me wrenching and swearing at the alternator and it's beastly hot out.
“Rock, if you want, come pull in front of my house under that big elm out front. It’ll be a lot cooler.” He says.
“You sure?” I ask.
“Yeah. No hard feelings.”
“OK, great. Thanks.” I limp my truck over to the tree’s welcome shade.
I wrestle the old alternator off, give it to John and takes off for Cuba. Nothing to do but wait.
I sit in the truck cab, drinking a beer, smoking a cigar, and reading up on the “Stratigraphy of the Four-Corner’s Region”.
Heavy stuff.
John returns about an hour later with my new alternator, not a refurbished one.
“When I told them it was for Mister Rock, they got you a new one for the price of the refurbed. It is Javen Spanner’s store, you know.” He laughs. “I’ve got to go get some lunch, I’ll be back shortly, and we’ll get you sorted out.”
“OK, I’ll see what I can do in the meantime” I reply.
The wrench slips for the thirtieth time that day. I swear a blue streak and kick the truck, as it was its fault, right on the bumper.
“God damned, motherfucking sorry piece of god damn Detroit shit! I swear, but not too loudly. I want my truck to know I’m just mad at the situation, not really with it…it has feelings, too.
A highly polished large luxury car wheels into the compound and two severely suited characters get out.
They look at the piece of paper they have, look at the number on Danny & Beth’s house, look at me, look at the paper, look at the house number, look at me…
John walks up behind them, out of their sight and waves his hands frantically to get my attention.
The two suited characters are oblivious to John’s presence; even though it looks like he’s going through the seven basic ballet moves to get my attention.
The two suits cautiously begin to walk toward me, very slowly.
John is miming to me, pointing at the suits: “MORMONS!” “ELDERS!” “HONCHOS!”
I think I understand…
I pick the beer can up off the fender, take an exaggerated swig, spark a new fire to my cigar, pick up the wrench and tell the truck it’s thee or me, motherfucker…
I’m under the hood and wrenching and swearing away when the suits walk up and stand there.
I ignore them.
“Um, Sir.”
“Yeah, what?”
“Could you come out of there for a minute?”
“Yeah. Just a fuckin’ minute. God damn alternator.” I say.
I ease out from under the hood of the truck; complete with Jack Daniels Field Tester ball cap, a sleeveless “Get Schist-faced” T-shirt, grubby cargo shorts, field boots, with a beard spilling down the front of my chest and hair like an unraveled Sikh; beer in one hand, cigar in the other.
“Yeah? Help you gents?” I ask.
They exchange very curious looks with each other, then look at me and back to each other.
“Are you…” reading from their paper, “Daniel Simpson Day?” they ask.
John’s flipping out silently behind them, pointing to them, and shaking his head ‘Yes” in a much-exaggerated manner.
The penny drops. I get it.
“Oh, fuck yeah. That’s me. How you guys doin’?” I take a pull on my beer and puff my cigar.
“Y’all wanna beer? They’re cold. Fuckin’ hot out here today.”
They look at me, look at each other, and wordlessly, turn 180 degrees and silently walk back to their car.
They didn’t even notice John literally rolling on the ground, laughing hysterically.
I run after them and trying not to laugh right in their faces say “Sorry, guys. I’m not Danny Day. Just a joke.”
“I should certainly hope not.” One of the old geezers says.
“That’s his house. He’s inside.” I tell them.
The brush past me like I’m some kind of new species of pond scum after giving my visage and demeanor a solid “Harrumph!”
“Offer still stands. Get you wigglers a cold one?”
Long John’s laughing so hard he’s crying.
I get the truck fixed and it was a bad alternator. Everything’s hitting on all eight cylinders now.
Everything was, for a change.
To be continued…
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