Category Archives: Strange Tales

The Day my Dad Caught Fire

I was twelve years old when I saw my father catch fire for the first time.  It was the summer of 1992 and I was hosting a sleepover for a couple of my grade school chums.  My father was also hosting a party, this one for a few bottles of Thunderbird, some cold Schaefer, and a few old Navy friends. It was a party that was destined to go down in flames.

The evening started routinely enough, us kids launching rockets from the end of Thor’s Hammer (an old section of PVC pipe used for fireworks) and watching as they erupted in the distance.  Many of the rockets were lost from sight as they traveled over to distant neighborhoods and foreign roads . It wasn’t until we heard the sounds of tires squealing and folks yelling that my father decided it was time for us to check in for the night.

The fellas and I retired to the basement for our regularly scheduled Street Fighter tournament while my father began to prepare us some fresh popcorn on the stove. It was about 30mins later when we began to smell smoke.  I was in rare form that night playing as my favorite Street Fighter, E. Honda, killing it with his “hundred hand slaps” and bringing glory back to the Sumo world.  I had just finished blasting Zangief back to Siberia when a few of the fellas mentioned that the smell was becoming stronger.

By the time my friends and I began to investigate it was too late. I was climbing up the stairs from the basement when I witnessed my father come barreling in from the back deck. He ran immediately to the stove and grabbed the flaming pot in both hands. He made it just outside the house when the lid gave way and a series of giant flames erupted from inside the large pot.

I still remember that look of pure terror as his body went up in flames like Nakatomi Plaza. At this point it was too late to turn back, he glanced over at me and muttered, “Alea iacta est”, as he pushed onward, pot in hand, flames engulfing his upper body.

Being the resourceful folks that we were, our house had been equipped with an outside shower that my father immediately utilized. It was while under the shower’s cool stream that he instructed all who could hear to start the Batvan and prepare for immediate departure.

While there was no official time keeper, most folks agree that my father’s run from cold shower to the driver’s seat took roughly 4 seconds.  After commandeering  the helm of his 73 Volkswagon Camper, we set course for the nearest hospital, or at least that’s what we thought.

Ten minutes later we pulled directly to the front entrance of our local 7-11.  Clad only in a pair of soaking swim trunks, he barged through the front door and made a bee-line for the cold beer section. After grabbing a 12 pack of heavy Bud, he proceeded to the front of a long, Friday night line and placed his beer on the counter.  Slamming down a 20 dollar bill, he then turned to the now hostile crowd and using his outdoor voice, he bellowed, “Listen up folks, we got an emergency situation here and I need these beers for medicinal purposes”. By the time the waiting patrons had any idea what was going on, we were already back on the road, heading towards the hospital.

Some witnesses claim 6, others 10, but nobody knows for sure how many beers it was.  What we do know is that a lot of beer got drunk on that short drive to the emergency room. After my father was checked in it marked the end of one highly eventful sleepover. It wasn’t until the next morning at check out, when doctors tried to prescribe Tylenol Three for his third degree burns, that shit would break loose once again.

Things started cordial enough as my father questioned the nurse about the doctors choice of pain medications. After informing him that the doctor’s decision was final and that no changes could be made, he continued to give protest until he was asked to leave the premises immediately. Thats when my father, heavily bandaged in the fashion of King Tut, advised the staff to phone the police because they were about to have a belligerent mummy tearing some shit apart. This comment seemed to strike a chord with the staff as a new prescription was written and everyone parted on good terms.

The Old Man in the Ambulance.

My job as a first responder has given me opportunity to visit many of the homes of our most elderly citizens. I never know what to expect when entering these homes but several years of experience have taught me what to look for.

The first sign of an interesting elderly patient is usually the lack of a television in the living room. How many of us are treated to the memory of visiting elderly relatives who kept their televisions locked away? In many of the houses I visit, the living room is left solely for that, living.

I can still remember those days before television took over. When I was a kid, visiting our elderly relatives was both a unique and educational experience. This was during the time that the story tellers thrived, the folks who could command an audience while a lunch of buttered rolls and decaf coffee digested. Without the use of television, folks were able to capture and hold audiences solely by their gift of gab. How these performers could captivate the minds of the young and old back then will forever influence my thinking today.

The next thing I usually notice in these homes is the presence or lack thereof, a bookshelf. A poor bookshelf can usually be noted by the number of high gloss dust covers on display. There is nothing by Bill O’reilly or Al Franken that will find home on any reputable shelf. A good bookshelf is hard to read, several dull manuscripts with authors whose names are hard to recognize but whose accomplishments are world renowned. A good library will never give mention to the New York Times or any other best seller list.

I recently met an older gentlemen who was having trouble keeping his balance. On our first arrival it was a simple matter of placing him back in bed. When we returned a few hours later, his wife was insistent that he be taken to the hospital. I was unaffected by the situation until I saw the grim look on this 96yr old man’s face.

It was during the time that the fellas were gathering the stretcher that I noticed something that they had not. Just before they returned this elderly man of wisdom, a man who had lived through things I could only read about, began to cry. It was only for a moment but it was long enough to tear my heart to shreds.

This man had seen things that the history books could not explain. He was part of a living history that was dying every day. A story teller whose song was in danger of being left unsung.

It’s hard to watch our elder citizens, the holders of knowledge both current and ancient, being processed like cattle grown too sick for the range. I promised myself to never forget the contributions made by our elders, no matter what their current mindset may be.

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The Ratman Chronicles: First Blood

It’s official folks, there is no turning back now, we have drawn first blood. It’s been over a month since the boy and I had our first encounter with Ratman on that moon lit March night. Since then the trail has gone cold, we had all but given up hope of catching our eternal foe. That was until yesterday when we stumbled upon what looked like a deserted hobo camp sight.

I didn’t note anything of import as I kicked through the trash, muttering words of disgust. That’s when a peculiar bottle caught my eye. I picked it up for a closer inspection and felt my heart leap into my throat. I immediately signaled to the boy to be on guard. We stood back to back with weapons at the ready. James had no idea what was going on but could sense the danger in the air.

It was the empty bottle of Swiss-up that confirmed we were on Ratman’s turf. I don’t even think they make that swill anymore but apparentlyr Ratman must have brought along his secret stash. Fearing an ambush, I began searching the wood line for my quickest escape route, praying not to see the rat.

I was starting to feel confident that we were alone when suddenly I heard a familiar song. That high pitched, shrieking voice could only belong to one rat.

“What’s the word
Thunderbird
What’s the jive
Birds’ alive
How’s it sold
Good and cold
But what’s that price?
Thirty Twice.”

That’s when Ratman appeared from the shrubs directly in front of me, holding a half drunk bottle of T-Bird and a devilish grin. He broke the bottle against a tree and drew his arm back for a killing blow. I feared I was about to die face down in the trash of a disgusting hobo camp.

That’s when I felt something streak just over my right shoulder. One of Ratman’s eyeballs exploded, spraying jets of blood in all directions. He let out a shriek loud enough to crack windowpanes from 5 blocks away and deafen all the neighborhood dogs. Just a quickly as he appeared, he bolted into the woods and disappeared before I knew what had happened.

I turned to see James standing beside me, his Jake the Pirate cannon now empty of its homemade projectile. I tried to say something but he was already bending down to collect some blood samples.

We studied the blood samples all night, hoping to discover a weakness we could exploit. I will post any results after we finish our investigation.

The Ghost inside my iPhone.

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It’s been close to six months since I purchased my iPhone. I always told myself that I would never own a smart phone, never cave to the temptation of that forbidden fruit.

I often feel that the phone is controlling me rather than me it. The phone knows me better than I do myself. It knows my habits, my daily travels, my friends and relatives, even my kinks. God help us all if our phones or our pets ever begin to talk.

After leaving the military, I spent a couple years at community college, earning my associates on the GI bill. I can’t say that I learned much other than the ability to regurgitate authorized opinions from authorized textbooks.

There was a Philosophy teacher whose class I thoroughly enjoyed, an older gentlemen who taught for part time fun rather than a full time career. His name has long been forgotten but I can still picture his face as he began each class with a joke or an update on his ever struggling golf game. He owned an old fashioned typewriter on which he would type up our exams, then run off to the copy machine to produce separate copies for each student.

A student once asked him why in the world he was still using a typewriter in this age of modern computers. His answer was the one thing from college that has stuck with me after all these years.

In a very nonchalant manner, he informed the student that he didn’t own a computer. Completely baffled, the student asked him why, to which he simply replied “I think it takes away from my humanity”.

At the time I didn’t fully understand the meaning of this casted pearl. The more I play with my iPhone or perhaps the more it plays with me, the better I understand the words of an old thinking man.

Hill Country Vegetarians Always Start Beef.

Well folks, the Summer of Jim is in full swing and I decided it was time to try some new things. We all know the folly of repeating the same behaviors yet hoping for new results. I knew my diet was in disarray and drastic measures needed to be taken.

After a night of self-reflection, sitting fireside in my den with a bottle of wine and a president, I had a sudden epiphany. I decided that I would spend the next two weeks as a vegetarian. Vegetarians as a rule are a barbarous lot, easily angered and processing a penchant for violence. I knew it was a dangerous endeavor but decided that for my healths sake, it was time to walk that razor’s edge.

This is how I found myself at the Wheatville Farmers market Tuesday morning, arriving long before the sun. My body was still half asleep as I sat in the parking lot reading through my various vegetarian recipes. When traveling in vegetarian circles it’s best to try and blend in. They can smell an imposter among them and they don’t take kindly to fakes. Or as they put it, “To betray the secrets of the Mysteries, to wear on the stage the dress of an Initiate, or to hold the Mysteries up to derision, was to incur death at the hands of public vengeance”.

Before entering the market I decided to hang back and take measure of the locals. Just as the sun began to peak over the horizon, two Chevy Volts entered the parking lot and proceeded to box me in on both sides. I was surrounded by a gang of ruffians the likes of which would send Leroy Brown himself running for cover.

I rolled down my window hoping to make peace with these grass-fed free rangers. Before I could gather my voice, a barrage of half eaten Lara bars began pelting me from all directions. I almost lost an eye to a loose almond that had ricocheted off my front glass. There was no time to dawdle, I jammed the Bu in reverse, laid my foot on the floor and laid rubber all the way back to Pflugerville. I think I’ll stick with eating meat for now, I’m trying to get healthier but not if that means I gotta get my ass kicked.

A Hitchhiker’s Guide to SXSW

Spotted a hitchhiker on the way to work today, his sign simply read SXSW. I was heading South, had time to spare and room for two, so I decided to pay it forward and slowed the beast to a crawl. I pulled onto the shoulder about 30 yrds ahead of the man to give me ample time to prep the ride before he arrived.

I wanted to give the impression of toughness just in case this hipster was looking for an easy mark. As with every drive to work, I had Elton John’s “Somebody Saved My Life Tonight” blasting on repeat and I knew it had to go. I slapped in my Meatloaf CD, tucked my Apple flavored lemonheads back under the passenger seat and unlocked the door.

The man said his name was Spencer Bonestorm, he was a lifelong Austinite that never missed an annual pilgrimage to SXSW. Over the course of our journey South I was educated on all the things Austin used to be. Apparently it wasn’t weird anymore, things had gotten too commercial and the squares were taking over the city.

I wanted to tell him that I was an East coast Yankee sent here to clog I35, demand sound ordinance enforcement and vote in a light rail system that I would never use. I wanted to tell him a lot of things but Meatloaf was hitting his high notes, my grape swisher was giving me a light buzz and I dared not spoil the mood.

Spencer complained a lot about “kids these days” or “the me generation”. Thank god I had hid my iPhone before he went on his technology rant. He argued that technology was dulling the next generations empathy, sapping their humanity and setting the board for a terrible future. Spencer told me he wanted to change the world but the only way he knew how was by not partaking in its big lie.

Spencer was starting to bum me out and I was glad to be rid of him when I finally dropped him at Anderson High. He knew some classmates meeting up there that had agreed to take him the rest of the way South. The class of 2014 was a tight knit group that never left a man behind. As he exited the car he left me with one last quote about the shape of things to come.

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn
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An Unsustainable Hustle

Got pulled over by Johnny Law the other day. It was a long time coming, our run of good luck was bound to end sometime. Unfortunately we happened to be riding extra dirty with about 80 kilos of disposable plastic bags stashed in the trunk. James and I have been bootlegging plastic bags into Travis county ever since the ban went into effect one year back.

The plastic bag hustle is a seedy game and this wasn’t our first scrape with danger. It was about 6 months ago that we first encountered the Chinese Ninja assassins sent over to shut us down. I got laughed out of the station when I tried to file a report with the police. They wouldn’t even examine the two ninja stars embedded in the rear quarter panel of the Bu.

Chairman Chang Kai Cash had won the “Bag Wars” back when California first started banning theirs a few years ago. When the smoke cleared and the blow guns fell silent, Cash emerged with total control of reusable bag manufacturing. With his empire complete, he didn’t take kindly to bootleggers squeezing in on the action.

Austin’s finest lit us up about two miles South of the Pflugerville line. I thought about punching it, letting that stroker motor breathe as we gunned it for the hill country. It was too early for any drastic moves so I pretended not to notice him, hoping to at least get the hell out of Travis County. It was when he finally hit the music that I realized I had better pull over.

I was sweating bullets as I watched him slowly saunter up to the car. He had that effortless gait that made him look like he was on skates. He greeted me with a broad Texas smile and asked for my license and proof of insurance. I was panicking bad, digging into my wallet with shaking hands, I pulled my license free and handed it over. The officer smiled kindly as he handed back my Freebirds Fanatic card and again asked for my license.

That’s when I remembered a few tips the DA had given me during our booze fueled fireside chat. I begged the officer’s forgiveness, informing him that I was a simple traveling man, a poor widow’s son heading East on urgent business. The officer looked puzzled for a moment then tipped his hat to me, flashed me a hand sign and was gone.

As we drove back into Pflugerville I could hear James breathing a sigh of relief. He looked over at me and mumbled “I’m getting too old for this shit” then he took another pull on his bottle of Motts and closed his eyes.

Rumors of Rats

It was about 12:30 in the AM when James and I hit the streets. The island was mostly quiet, some light conversations could still be heard from dark porches where only the glow of lit cigarettes could be seen. The loudest sounds came from unsecured screen doors as they slammed open and shut in the strong sea breezes. It was a moonless night as the pier lights had gone dark over an hour ago, helping the stars to parade out in all their glory.

James took a long pull on his bottle of Motts apple juice and tucked the remnants back into his breast pocket. I was doing my best to walk a straight line but my body was still rolling with waves stirred up from a day at the beach. A combination of blue ribbon beer and black label bourbon had left me on skates during this late night hunt.

We were following some leads that Maddy had dug up the night before down at the pier. She was playing 8 ball with some Merchant Marines who had just finished a 6 month cruise that included a pass through the Dragon Sea. While in the Devil’s Triangle the men met up with a Chinese fishing vessel full of gossiping sailors. Rumor had it that Ratman was recently spotted sailing just off the Carolina coast.

Esoteric riddles, legends and ancient folklore had begun arriving from the South China seas in early April. It has been prophesied that the Cemelopardalid meteor shower, which is due to arrive early Saturday morning, will herald in a new age. The passing meteors will supposedly grant Ratman and his legion of followers the power necessary to overthrow the gatekeepers to the troglodytes.

Such a cosmic shift in the balance of power could cause Samson to push down the pillars of our world for good. I tried to remain calm in the light of these new revelations but it was hard to keep my eyes off the stars as we pushed on. Only time will tell what tomorrow has in store for us, I can only hope the prophecy is wrong. Trust in God folks but paddle clear of the rocks.