WILD BLUE: SAVING THE WORLD WITH DUCT TAPE AND WD-40 by Earl Trout
I am not brave and I am not a fan of chaos theory, and I don’t believe in coincidence. I believe things happen because somebody made them happen, especially stupid things. Early in childhood I realized I had a congenital need to place blame. In this case, however, because my deadly situation began to pick up speed, I couldn’t devote adequate time to guilt analysis. So, I quickly decided to blame Santa Anna for my lethal circumstances.
That seemed to make at least a modicum of sense. You see, Antonio López de Santa Anna, the handsome, rich, politically astute, and almost completely incompetent eleven-time Presidente and/or Dictator of Mexico convinced himself that chicle (the white goo from sapodilla trees) could be formulated into artificial rubber. During one of his many exiles, Santa Anna rented a room in the U.S. home of wannabe inventor Thomas Adams. In March 1867, El Presidente somehow managed to get two tons of chicle shipped to Mr. Adams in New York City. This is a true thing.
Adams never created even so much as a single successful application of chicle-based artificial rubber. While on his way to dump the last bits of the worthless glop into the East River, he became aware of a new paraffin wax-based confectionary fad called “chewing gum.” He rushed back home, warmed up the chicle, added a bit of sugar, and personally launched the world-wide chewing gum industry. This is also a true thing. So, I also blamed Thomas Adams for me being trapped in the deadly device.
But then … it really didn’t seem fair to blame either Santa Anna or Thomas Adams without due thought process. Nevertheless, it became obvious I would soon crash and be splattered to death before I had enough data to assess culpability. Accordingly, despite my discomfort with making a judgment call based on feelings instead of facts, I blamed everything on William Wrigley, Jr. That kinda-sorta worked for me because Mr. Wrigley, the most successful zillionaire, chewing gum magnate in the history of the world owned the big unstoppable trash dumpster in which I was trapped. It escaped from the Wrigley Mansion.
Now, regardless of what you may end up thinking by the time you hear our entire true-life adventure, I want you to know that Kevin really was a good friend. However, he—quite frequently—also managed to be my worst nightmare. Though basically a good guy, my assumption is, he never inherited the responsibility gene. By way of example … there I was … trapped in the large Wrigley Mansion dumpster, rolling downhill insanely fast—totally out of control—in the richest part of Pasadena. The dumpster and I rushed past stately old-money mansions as rapidly as my 29-year-old life appeared to be rushing to its end. At the bottom of the steep hill, the oak tree-canopied boulevard made an acute turn to the left. My dumpster had no steering wheel.
Using structures on terrain as baseline, I calculated my street at a twenty-eight-degree descent. Maybe even twenty-nine. Very scary. My eyeglasses were caked with grime. I fingernailed off a bit of gunk and squinted downhill.
Okay… there’s an old guardrail down at the dead end. Oh, don’t even think dead end!
The cliff on the other side of the guardrail dropped a hundred yards straight down to the Rose Bowl parking lot. The crumbling wooden guardrail wouldn’t even stop a skateboard from going off the cliff. It occurred to me that my immediate future would consist of disgusting video on the eleven o’clock news.
Now I’m not a rocket scientist, but—well actually, Kevin is a rocket scientist—I’m just a physicist. In any event, I instantly analyzed my situation and then settled on the only logical course of action: I squealed. “Aiieee!” I found it comforting.
I do not even remotely resemble an athlete so escape from the dumpster seemed unlikely. My body type is “scrawny side of five foot-eight.” When it comes to things like baseball and football, I can’t even catch a cold.
Through exhausting effort, I clawed my way semi-upright. My throbbing fingers barely gripped the grimy edge of the runaway monstrosity. I frantically looked around, trying to find a savior. As if in answer to an unspoken silent prayer or, more likely, in answer to my loudly spoken scream, Kevin’s classic 1983 GMC van rolled up alongside my dumpster.
Kev originally wanted to make the old beater a replica of the A-Team van, but he settled on plain white in order to protect his goofy secret identity. Actually, his first choice for a classic ride had been a 1986 Ferrari Testarossa, like the one Sonny Crockett drove in the last two seasons of Miami Vice, but Kev couldn’t stuff his illegal television broadcasting gear and the instant hot water heater into a Ferrari.
I immediately recognized the van as Kevin’s because of the five small aerodynamically-correct bumps for antennae housing on the roof. Also, when I looked really close, I spotted one of the many micro spray nozzles positioned all over the windowless exterior. He imbedded each nozzle in a miniaturized, one-sixteenth-inch-wide, low-drag NACA duct. The nozzles and ducts, of his own design, were the same white as the van, rendering them essentially invisible. His ducts had no aerodynamic function, and I never asked if they served some other function, but he received pleasure from thinking of them as stealth rocket nozzles. Because that would be cool.
I can’t believe I still remember his stupid home-made bumper stickers:
I LOVE BOARD MEETINGS
And . . .
THE PIRATE IS WATCHING
The passenger side window slid down and Kevin turned his head to look out at me. He Smiled, and crooned, “Hi sailor. Want a lift?”
Ah ha! Now I knew precisely who to blame for being trapped in a gigantic garbage can: Kevin. As usual. Guilty. I yelled, “Ox, you were supposed to hold onto this thing.”
“Sorry,” he shrugged. “Minor distraction.”
“I saw her, Kev. She had major distractions.”
The dumpster and my anger both gained momentum as I coalesced into my frequent state of dread. He glanced at the end of the street, down at the bottom of the hill, and said, “Hey, listen, do you want a ride or not?”
I thought it important I be clearly understood over the annoying clanging and banging of the dirty dumpster, so I screamed, “Kevin Oxley, I wouldn’t ride with you if my life depended on it!”
“I think it does,” he smirked, wriggling his eyebrows toward the guardrail above the parking lot of death.
I cleverly responded, “Aiieee!”
Jumping as high as panic permitted, I grabbed his passenger-side rearview mirror, grunged myself up out of the dumpster, and threw myself toward the van’s open window. He made a hard-left turn. The passenger door flew wide open with me stuck half-way through the window while my stomach tried to get a grip on the windowsill.
He jerked the steering wheel to the right, making the passenger door fly back and slam shut. The impact shot me down to the van floor. The van roared up Arroyo Drive, tight roping the edge of the cliff.
The dumpster splintered through the guardrail and soared out over the canyon. Seconds later it made a trash landing in the parking lot. Twisting metal, breaching welds, and shattered wheels screeched like a tortured metallic creature.
My face pancaked on the floorboard and my feet terror-twitched out the window. Kevin looked down at me with a quizzical stare and mildly said, “Theo, you look tense.”
With my nose still pressed against the floor mat, I mumble-shouted, “I could have been killed trying to save this stupid old record album from that dumpster for you.” Spitting out floor mat morsels, I shook the ‘60s vintage vinyl at him … Woman, Woman by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap. At least I think I shook it in his direction. Having only one eye available, I was forced to squint sideways past my nose and crumpled corn chip bags. I couldn’t really use the eye stuck to the transmission hump.
“It’s a classic,” He said indignantly.
Then, his demeanor softened. He seemed to finally grasp the enormity of his best friend lying face down on the floor of his van, terrified. A look of genuine concern flooded over him as he said, “You didn’t scratch the vinyl, did you?”
“That record has considerably fewer scratches than my face.”