To the beautiful lady I married, and for what we made together.
I drove three hours up into the Poconos to look at a crusty truck on Sunday, hoping it would be good enough to drag home, but unfortunately it wasn’t. I was able to make the best of the trip by scooting through the Delaware Water Gap to visit our house in Hackettstown, where I went to elementary school up until the 5th grade. A lot has changed there and much is still the same. First I stopped off at the old house to see how it looks: it’s in good shape!
What strikes me the most is that a lot of the trees I remember are gone. The willow in the front yard I fell out of is long gone. All of the tall oaks in the neighbors’ yard to the east are gone. The house to the north looks like it was completely overtaken with new construction. And the overgrown forest and park down at the end of our street where I played Little League baseball and rode BMX bikes has been leveled and cleared, probably for some kind of new development.
Driving around town was wild. It looks like it’s doing very well—the fact that they have the M&M Mars plant anchoring the town is key. Main Street is busy and all the storefronts are full. My middle school is still standing, and still handsome despite the ugly emergency stairwells bolted to the front of the building. The winding route to my elementary school looks almost exactly the same. All of the buildings on the way still stand, and the path up the hill from the dropoff circle is still there. As I drove out of town I found myself passing the VFW hall where I raced my soap box derby car, the Dairy Queen next to the river where we celebrated little league wins, and the Walmart that used to be a Jamesway.
I’m glad to see the town doing well. Sometimes I wonder how our lives might have been different if we’d stayed there. Hackettstown wasn’t perfect but I have lots of good memories from there.
I’ve seen a couple attempts at making modern entertainment out of Dungeons & Dragons, which have all failed for various reasons. The main question is: how do you build a relatable, entertaining story out of something that is built out of the individual imagination of each of its players? The whole point of the game is to build worlds in your mind, so most adaptations wind up looking like third-rate cosplay at the Ren Faire. So I was curious about seeing whether the new D&D movie get things right. Having been written and directed by a group of comedy veterans, I would say it mostly does. There are several setpieces that clearly cost millions of dollars, but there are several emotional beats that landed with the craft and feeling of an ABC Afterschool Special. Still, we all enjoyed it, and it was great to see a movie in a theater with my family.
This weekend was my turn for driving down to Lexington Park to visit with Jen’s Dad. We’re all spreading the load out among people so that everyone gets a break, which has been super helpful for everyone’s metal health. I’m pretty much done with the bathroom job so I packed the car with tools to get the Chrysler up and running again. When last I left it, we’d gotten it to turn over and run for a few moments but I hadn’t hooked up the boat tank yet, and then we had to turn out attention to cleaning up the house. I picked up some lunch for the two of us and visited with him for an hour and a half, and then headed out to the garage.
After moving some stuff around I tightened some bolts down on the engine, set up the boat tank, and cranked over the engine a couple of times. The starter sounded sick—much worse than I remember it from last year—so I adjusted some things and squirted more gas down the carb. With no success I looked over the whole thing again and happened to put my palm down on the positive battery cable, which was warm to the touch. It’s really not supposed to feel like that. Knowing there would be no starting that day, I jacked the front of the car up and took the wheels off to look at the drums and shoes, but found that no matter how many times I whacked them with a hammer, I could not remove either brake drum. Having been thwarted there, I got under the car and drained the oil into a catchpan, taking a sample from the middle of the pour to send off to Blackstone for analysis. I put in 2.5 qt. of new oil and made a note to buy more—the Chrysler 440 takes seven quarts—and buttoned up the whole thing for the evening.
New starters aren’t expensive, and I’ve replaced Scout starters multiple times, but this one is a bit more challenging: it’s on the driver’s side under the steering column, next to the manifold dump, and hard metal lines for the transmission cooler and rear brakes are directly underneath it. So I’m going to have to do some careful wiggling under there to replace it. Super.
On Sunday we took it easy. I walked Hazel and put some Scout parts up on Marketplace to try and get them sold this year (Craigslist is a ghost town), then did some grocery shopping. When I got back I had offers on three different items; if I sell one of the windshields this Thursday like I’m planning, I’ll have made back the money I spent on the red truck. The afternoon was spent with the girls doing some errands and then tinkering on the truck in the driveway, trying to soak up as much fresh air as I could before the sun went down.
My father drank beer that would make most alcoholics throw up. I don’t actually remember him drinking beer regularly, but after a workout in black socks with his thousand-pound lawnmower, sitting by the pool on a hot August afternoon, or maybe at a pub with a burger, he’d crack a cold one and enjoy it. At home he didn’t drink that often that I remember, but when he did it was usually something domestic and lousy.
Dad drank Coors with my uncles, and Bud when we were out at a restaurant, but nothing that I remember having any flavor. Growing up I remember seeing a case of Black Label in the basement one six-pack shy. I’ve never seen that particular brand on any shelf in any liquor store in any town I’ve ever been to, and I’ve been to some of the sketchiest liquor stores Baltimore City has to offer: the kind where you slide your money through a slot in a inch-thick wall of Lucite at 3 in the morning and hope that the scowling man behind it actually gives you something in return. When I got back from college, after my travels around the world sampling all the beer there was to offer, I looked down upon his choices. Why would he drink such piss? When there were stouts and IPAs and brown lagers and hefeweizens to relish? I didn’t understand. You poor man.
I’m writing this to say that I understand now. It’s become clearer to me why my uncles could down nine Coors Lights on a boat towing us on a raft all afternoon and still drive into town for dinner stone sober; why Dad had that look of satisfaction on his face when, covered in grass clippings and smelling like a draft horse, he would crack a bottle of [defunct regional pisswater] and take that first sip: It tasted like beer, but might have reached 3.5% alcohol by volume. It was like drinking Seven-Up; it was as close to near beer as they made back in the 80’s. It was refreshment.
As I’ve gotten older, I dislike beers that knock me on my ass immediately. I’ve mentioned this before; it’s the reason all my brewing equipment is for sale on Marketplace (still waiting; I think I missed my opportunity at the beginning of COVID) and why I don’t buy heavy craft beers at the store: they taste good but they don’t agree with me anymore. I love the taste but I want to be able to function tomorrow, not feel like I’ve been scraped off Hazel’s paws. I can tell when a beer isn’t going to agree with me almost immediately these days. I get to the third or fourth pull and it feels heavy. I’m not drinking beer to get fucked up, and I’m not drinking it for the vitamins. I want it to be refreshing and light, like I want the second half of my time on this Earth to be—god willing. Plus, fancy craft beer is expensive as hell. It’s great for special occasions, but for a beer with dinner on a random Tuesday, something light and inexpensive will do the trick just fine.
So I’ve stocked the beer fridge with Pacifico, a lovely Mexican lager that goes down smooth and tastes even better with some fresh lime, and my old friend and lover, National Bohemian [see: regional pisswater]. Both are light on alcohol, taste just fine, and most importantly, are refreshing. I can drop one in a YETI and sip on it for an hour, which is how I like to enjoy them—much the same way I drink coffee. I like refreshment. But I’m not mowing the lawn in black socks.
Finn got the wild idea about two weeks ago to have herself a yard sale. In typical fashion, the thought struck her on a Thursday, and she announced her plan to us to hold it the following Saturday. We quickly advised her to put it off a week for both logistical and commercial reasons: the neighborhood across the street was holding their spring yard sale this weekend, and that always gets lots of traffic.
Jen and I started making lists of stuff to drag down from the attic and up from the cellar, and by Friday night we had a sizeable stack of stuff piled on the front porch ready to go. We lucked out with good weather. I ran out to get breakfast and by 8AM we had two tables piled with goods on the front lawn flanked by furniture of all shapes and sizes. We get lots of eyeballs on Frederick Road, so the cars lined the street pretty much all morning. We said goodbye to a lot of toys, kids’ clothes, large furniture, and other stuff; Finn sold a lot of jewelry and some books. I tried to get people interested in the futon frame but nobody would bite. By 11:30 the traffic slowed so we hauled everything inside and counted our earnings: about $175 plus a ton of quarters.
As the sky got dark I went upstairs to roll a second coat of paint in the old blue room and then went down to the basement to rebuild a carburetor for the Travelall. The wind picked up and the rain came down all afternoon. Jen and I watched the first three episodes of the Mandalorian season 3 and then we all hit the hay.
At around 11:30 we heard booming and crackling very close outside, and opened a window to see one of the transformers behind our house alternately exploding in green flame and then barfing hot red lava down the side of the can. As I was looking up the I’m-not-calling-about-a-gas-leak number for BGE, our lights went out. I reported the issue and we went back to bed. In the morning our electricity wasn’t back and the estimates were saying 4PM for a return to power. Jen and I took Hazel for a long walk and then we hit the road in search of a generator.
We’ve had our fair share of electricity outages here at the Lockardugan Estate; in the first ten years we must have lost power five times. It’s been better since they replaced the transformer directly behind us (that one used to explode every time it rained) but we’ve lost an entire fridge and freezer full of food twice in the last ten years, and that shit ain’t cheap. I decided to look for a portable generator/inverter both because I didn’t want another huge object taking up space in the garage, and I also wanted something we might be able to take camping. After visiting two stores we drove to Columbia and found a nice Craftsman 2200W unit (basically a rebadged Generac) to bring home.
On the back lawn all went well until I pulled the “don’t start this without oil” tag off and looked for the manual to tell me where the oil fill was located: there was no manual. Nothing on the side of the box, and nothing on the web page for the model I’d just bought. Noting it was manufactured by Generac, I looked on their site and found what I needed. Once it was full of oil and gas it fired right up and I plugged the fridge in, and it never skipped a beat. So that’s a nice bit of insurance to have out in the garage.
I was in Lexington Park on Saturday to finish grouting my father-in-law’s bathroom floor, get the water hooked up in the sink, and replace the original-to-the-house vent fan, which involved suiting up in Tyvek and crawling around in his hot attic for an hour fighting the wiring. The pipe valves on the supply lines were original to the house so when we hooked up the sink they both immediately started leaking. Being simple compression fittings, this wasn’t surprising, but it also made their replacement with new SharkBite fittings much easier. The bathroom is about 95% complete, which is a relief, and with the end of that project, I’m going to be stepping back from major initiatives two hours away from my house. I think I’m going to refocus on getting the Chrysler started, maybe working a little bit to fix the janky deck on the back of the house, but not taking on huge remodeling projects moving forward.
Sunday morning I primed the walls in the old Blue bedroom to cover a very bright coat of red. The girls had originally picked out a beautiful shade of what we all thought was coral but showed up as a vibrant red that made our eyeballs buzz, so we had to rethink the color. They found a lighter shade containing a little more orange, and I rolled one coat of that on in the afternoon. It’s bright but not as anxious as the red was, so I think we’re going with it. It’ll be good to get the trim painted in there as well; it’s been almost twenty years since it was originally painted and so it’s getting dull and dirty.
Finn has been making noise about organizing a yard sale to generate some cash, which got me thinking about all of the crap I’ve got clogging up the basement: spare bedframes, the old sandblaster, an unused weed whacker, an old handcart, old furniture, unused electronics, and countless untold other items. The yearly community sale is happening next weekend across the street, and it wouldn’t be that hard to set up a table out front to take advantage of the extra traffic; the big issue is the forecast, which was for a solid block of rain but now seems to be moving back towards the evening.
© 2022 Bill Dugan