School has almost started, and it’s time for me to pass along some words of wisdom to these high school kids that they can use for the rest of their lives. I don’t have much wisdom, so read closely.
First, I need to ask you a few questions.
Who would you really like to hang with?
Is it all the popular kids driving cars and trucks better than your old man’s van? The ones that are invited to every party and are on the top of the list for every social and athletic event? The ones that seem to have all the money and the good looks to go with it?
Well, there you go. That’s your first mistake.
You don’t want to run around with people like that. They’re no fun at all. They spend all their time trying to look good, sound good, and say cool and witty things that others might start quoting. That takes a lot of effort on their part and doesn’t leave them any time for more important things. Namely concentrating on you or even just remembering your name.
No, sir! Avoid those people!
I’ve had much more fun in life hanging out with what we used to call “characters,” as in “That Begley is a real character.” Mind you, I’m just using my name as an example.
My favorite character of all time is a guy I’ll call “Outdoor Dan,” who I met while on active duty with the army.
“Outdoor” and I were working full-time with an Army Reserve Engineer Company a few years after the Vietnam War. Old Outdoor was a true woodsman. This guy could hunt, fish, trap, make animal pelts, live off the land, build you a log cabin and just about anything else this side of legal.
Outdoor was of average height and weight. He had this red hair and skin that looked like wrinkled old leather. This was before tanning beds, so it should have been a tip-off that he spent a lot of time outdoors.
He wasn’t overweight but he did have a “turkey neck”. A turkey neck is when you have one or more double chins that make you look like a turkey. I didn’t have a turkey neck then, but I now have more “chins” then a Chinese phone directory.
I didn’t realize Dan was an outdoorsman until I took my first trip down to Fort Knox with him. He was driving a military pickup truck and we were shooting the breeze on a lazy day with nothing much to do.
Suddenly, Dan’s whole body went erect behind the wheel and his head whipped from side to side, scanning the horizon for 180 degrees. He then began to make strange chirping noises and craned his head out the window on his side.
Needless to say, this whole episode concerned me greatly. Especially as I was in the passenger’s side of the car.
Dan then whipped his head back into the cab and said, “Did you see that?”
“Yes, but I’m sure the army can get you some help.”
“No, look at the wild turkeys in the field.”
I gazed out the window, and sure enough there were about three wild turkeys looking back.
“Hey, Dan, that was pretty neat. Where did you learn to make that chirping noise and call them out of the bush?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You know the chirping noise when you went erect and stuck your head out the window.”
“You sure you’re OK, Ken?”
“Yeah, just forget I said anything.”
Dan taught me a lot of things. For instance, he taught me how to eat cheaply while traveling around the country. Two words: “road kill.”
Of course, it got a little old waving cars around Dan while he was scrapping up a dead cat.
But Dan would stop and skin worthwhile road kill prospects for the pelts while he was on his way to work.
Sometimes when he was running late he’d just take the road kill with him. I’ll never forget opening up the refrigerator at work and jumping 10 feet in the air when I saw a mashed fox staring back with his tongue hanging out of his mouth. The odor from it made my baloney sandwich taste funny, too, when I went to eat at lunch.
One year this reserve unit went to Fort McCoy, Wisc., for two weeks of training. McCoy is way out in the country where every kind of animal in the world roams.
Anyway, we got the middle weekend off and a army pickup truck to run around the countryside off the base. We decided to head up to a lumberjack festival. On the way up we saw a great big road kill beaver on the side of the road.
Dan slammed on the brakes, which caused me to thump my head on the windshield.
“Did you see that?!?!?”
“The windshield? Yeah, I got a close look at it.”
“No, the dead beaver?”
“I’m sorry, that must have escaped my attention.”
“You care if I take it with us?”
“OK, but I don’t think he’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Dan ignored me and jumped from the truck. He sidled up to the beaver like they were old buddies waiting at a bus stop together. Cars drove around, and when it looked like no one was looking, Dan grabbed that beaver by the nap of his neck and threw him in the back of the pickup. Dan then jumped in the cab and made our getaway.
We were still driving around the countryside with old Bucky Beaver in the back when we saw Hooty the Owl smashed on the road, as well. Dan again slammed on the brakes before Bucky was ready and I heard him thump against the cab.
“What are we stopping for now, Dan?”
“Look, eagle feathers. You know what they go for?”
“I thought that was an owl.”
“No, eagle. I’m going to get those feathers. You want some?”
“Nope. You can have mine.”
We finally made it to the lumberjack festival, but it was pretty much a bust after the excitement I’d had earlier with Dan.
As we were driving back, Dan said, “You know this isn’t going to work at all. If I skin this beaver, then I’m going to still have to keep it iced until I can tan it when we get home and that’s another week. It’ll go bad before I can fix it up right. I think I’m going to get rid of the beaver. That OK with you?”
“Well, I’ve grown attached to Bucky, but if it’s for the best, then I guess he’s got to go.”
Dan then pulled over and jumped in the bed of the pickup. He wasn’t as concerned about people driving by this time. He just grabbed old Bucky Beaver, raised him up over his head and flung him as far as he could. Then waved to on-lookers as we drove away.
That happened 29 years ago and I still laugh every time I think about it.
I miss Outdoor Dan.
I can’t remember who was popular when I was in high school.