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Monday, November 30, 2009 7 comments

White Pickups, Episode 11


“Not bad,” said Tim, standing in the foyer of one of the walk-off houses. “Smells a little musty, but I guess that’s to be expected.”

“It smells a lot better than the Kumar place did,” Kelly said. Their neighbors had driven off, leaving the house unlocked, but the smell from the powerless refrigerator was enough to drive anyone out. Cody rode home and came back with a hand truck; he and Tim rolled the refrigerator out back while the women opened windows in hopes it would air out before Charles and his companions arrived tomorrow. With evening coming on, getting Tim and Sara settled into each of the walk-off houses was now the priority.

Fortunately, the walk-offs had left their furniture behind, and the HOA had tidied everything up in hopes of a quick sale. Tim and Sara both had possessions they wanted to bring, including large quantities of canned goods, but everything fit on a bike trailer and was quickly moved inside each house.

“We should probably go house-to-house tomorrow,” Tim suggested. “Rescue any pets that are trapped inside, get perishable — perished — food out of the houses, maybe help ourselves to whatever people have left behind.”

“What if they come back for it?” Kelly asked.

“Honestly, Kelly — I don’t think anyone who drove off is ever going to come back.”

“How can you know that?” Kelly crossed her arms and glared at the redhead.

“Call it a hunch. But I’ll tell you what: maybe we can just take inventory for now. We won’t take anything that we don’t need right away, but we’ll keep a record so we can get it later if we need it. If people do come back, all we’ve done — for now — is rescue their pets and decontaminate their refrigerators. Fair enough?”


“Good, we’ll start tomorrow. We ’ll go in pairs: you and Sara, Cody and your mom — me and my .38.” He tugged the shoulder holster where he kept his revolver.

“Unless Cody wants to go with Sara,” Tina said. “Why pairs, though? There’s nobody else around.”

“Somebody might be holed up in their house,” Cody said. “My dad was talking about building a survival shelter in the basement, but he never got around to it. But if there’s nobody home, some of the bigger dogs might not be happy about visitors.”

“It’s been several days,” Sara said. “They might not starve to death, but what about water?”

“You know dogs,” Tim said. “They’ll drink out of the toilet. We’ll take bags of dog food with us; we can rip them open before we break in and strew it around if a dog comes at us — that should give us time to get the door shut.”

“They’ll make all kinds of racket anyway,” Kelly said. “I guess we can get started in the morning, but we’ll have to get some dog food first. The QuickFill has some, it’ll save us some time. Cat food, too — I’m sure there will be some cats looking for breakfast.”

“Right,” Tim said. “Okay, I guess we should head to our respective homes and get some sleep.”

“Unless anyone wants to play cards,” Sara said, brandishing a deck. “Five-handed Hearts, maybe?”

“Oooo, cutthroat,” Cody grinned. “Too bad Mom’s not here, she’s a shark at Hearts. Or was…” He looked down.

“I’ve played, but not five-handed,” Tim said. “How does that work?”

“Easy,” Sara told him. “Everyone gets ten cards, the last two go face down in the middle, and the first person to eat points gets them. Adds a little excitement to the game.”

“Maybe we should go back to my house for this?” Tina said. “We’ve got the generator hooked up.”

The generator was running, but the light over the dining room table was on the house wiring. Cody clipped the cord from the hanging fixture over the dining room table, pulled the fixture off the chain, then hung a trouble light in its place. He ran an extension cord from the power strip at the refrigerator and tacked a nail into the ceiling above it to keep the cord out of the way. “The rules are pretty simple,” he said while he worked. “Sara, deal the first hand while I’m doing this, okay? You pick three cards you don’t want and pass them to the person on your right, then pick up the three from the guy on your left. Two of Clubs leads the first trick, always. You have to follow suit that leads the trick, if you have it. If you don’t, you can throw anything you want, except you can’t drop a heart or the Queen of Spades on the first trick. You can’t lead Hearts until hearts are broken — that means someone’s taken a point card — or that’s all you’ve got in your hand. Each heart is one point, the Queen of Spades is thirteen points, and you want to avoid getting points. We’ll talk about running ’em once you guys get the hang of things.” He sat down, picked up his hand, and picked three cards to give to Tina before picking up Sara’s offering. “Ow. You and my mom would have got along pretty good.” He winced and sorted cards.

“And what am I supposed to do with these?” Tina griped. “I thought you were going to go easy on us the first time.”

“As if you gave me nice stuff,” Tim grinned.

“Maybe I can deal with this,” Kelly said. “These first couple of hands are just practice, right?”

“Sure,” Sara said. “Especially looking at what you gave me.”

“Deucy, deucy, who’s got the deucy?” Cody sang. The trouble light swayed gently, throwing strange shadows as they played.


Conversation with Tim Petro

Friday, November 27, 2009 8 comments

Thanksgiving, and Thanks a Lot

Thanksgiving spreadAnother Thanksgiving, one that happened to coincide with my birthday this year (I’ve turned 17 for the 3rd time if you want to know). I was hoping — but not expecting — a little whimsy, like candles on the turkey, and that didn’t happen. But I got something much better: the in-laws behaved themselves and didn’t launch into one of their squabblefests for a change. Mrs. Fetched’s dad hasn’t had Fox Spew on this weekend, at least when I’ve been there, which makes being there a little more bearable.

Big V's prothesisThis has not been a great year for the in-laws, health-wise: Mrs. Fetched is the only one of her immediate family who hasn’t had a stretch in the hospital this year. Big V has been in twice, and not all of her came home last time. She got out of rehab just in time to join us for the festoovities, complete with an initial prosthetic foot. She made a comment about “I wish my other leg was as thin as my new one!" (Careful what you ask for, sis.)

Chicken house cobwebsThe good news: no trip to the chicken houses on my birthday. The bad news: my birthday is only one day out of 365. For me, Black Friday was an appropriate name. The poultry company started subsidizing the natural gas for the growers a year or so ago — which, given the price, is one way to keep growers from just shutting down through the winter. However, they’ve started doing some kind of pressure test to make sure the heat stays inside for just a little while longer. The houses were built in the 1980s, before and after I entered the picture here, and they’re nearly as drafty as they are filthy. They did an initial test last weekend, and they scored a 2 with a minimum acceptable score of 5 (not sure what the dimensions/units are just yet, maybe 1/10 PSI). They delayed putting in a new batch of birds, to give Mrs. Fetched another week to improve things, so it’s all hands on dreck [sic]. While a hired gun straightened out exhaust fans and sagging doors, we spent much of the afternoon inside a closed (and unlit) chicken house, seeking out spots of daylight to spray foam filler into. Mrs. Fetched and I walked around and put screws in some of the plywood that was bowing away from the studs and letting light (and cold air) in as well.

Homebrew door sealsOf course, some cracks of daylight just weren’t conducive for spraying foam into — like the large doors in front and back. Mrs. Fetched had a plan, and raw materials to execute it with: when we put wood flooring in Daughter Dearest’s room, we had to rip out the white carpet. It’s been sitting in the detached garage ever since, and Mrs. Fetched appropriated it for the chicken houses. Panda cut 6-inch wide strips of carpeting and tacked them up… so yup, the chicken houses are carpeted (but a bit askew as always).

After we knocked off, mainly for lack of material to continue, I went to the back yard to continue leaf-removal exercises, and pulled up the wild blackberry vines. They weren’t bearing that well, and I figure Mason will be running around outside by next fall, so I wanted to make sure we have a briar-free area for him. I get better blackberries from stands a little farther from home.

MasonOf course, I’m not going to let one of these go by without a picture of Mason. Daughter Dearest has been home all week, while Mason has been in and out of the manor… but he loves his aunt DD. It turns out The Boy is often unable to wake up, even with Mason in the crib next to the bed giving him the full-throated “FEED ME!!!” roar. Anyway, DD got to take care of him all afternoon while the rest of us were suffering in the chicken houses (I’ve had that privilege a couple times myself). He continues to grow, eat ever more prodigious amounts of formula, and develop. He’s starting to laugh, drooling like Amicalola Falls, and in the early stages of cutting teeth (Snippet cut teeth when she was 3 months old). His brain is wiring up at breakneck speed; you can see him taking more interest in his surroundings and he’s starting to reach for things. Anything in his hand immediately goes in his mouth, of course. Unfortunately, we’re getting more normal weather for this time of year now, so dropping him in the stroller is going to be a very occasional event until March or April.

Just think… we get to do this again tomorrow. Oh joy.

Monday, November 23, 2009 8 comments

White Pickups, Episode 10


Hope everyone who celebrates Thanksgiving has a good one! Eat more pie, so you’ll be too heavy to go outside when the pickup comes for you… :-)

Introductions, embraces, laughter. “That’s a nice way to carry things around,” Sara said, waving at the bicycle and trailer. “Beats pushing a grocery cart for two miles, I’ll bet.”

“It’s not much like the exercise bikes at the fitness centers, though,” Tina laughed. “I got it right after I left here on Friday, at the shop down the strip. Maybe we can find you something, if it hasn’t been looted.”

“Hey Tina,” Cody said. “Is this where the beer guy left his carts?”

“Down there by the lamppost,” Tina said. Empty carts were strewn all over the lot. Some lay on their sides, all looked battered. A white pickup stood alone on the far end of the lot; that, broken glass, and scattered carts were the only things to see.

The emergency lighting in the Saver-Market was adequate to see by, and they made quick work of their grocery needs. Tina loaded a cooler with meat, not wanting it to go to waste, and Sara showed her the large ice maker in back.

The display window at the bike shop was boarded up now. The plywood sported a mural, showing a couple (one who looked like the proprietor) on touring bikes in the foreground, and mountain bikes following a trail into a distant wood. A signboard in front of the door, borrowed from the nearby Italian restaurant, read:



Cody shrugged and poked his head through the door. “Hey! Customers and visitors here! Don’t shoot!”

The young man that sold Tina her bicycle on Friday stepped in from the back, wearing a shoulder holster. “Hi folks. Sorry about the sign, I had some trouble here Saturday night. Come on in. Oh, hey, hello Ms. — you were in here Friday when everything started going crazy, weren’t you?”

“That’s right. I’m Tina Ball. You sold me the bike and trailer. It’s been a big help. My daughter Kelly, our friend Cody… and this is our friend Sara, I was wondering if you could set her up with something to get around on as well.”

“Sure. Oh, I’m Tim Petro — great name for a guy in a bike shop, huh? Since you’re here, you might as well let me give your ride a once-over.” He looked through the glass door. “I’ll tweak up the other ones too, no charge. Not like money’s good for much anymore.” He laughed.

“You said you had some trouble Saturday,” Cody said. “What happened?”

“About what you’d expect. Some drunk f— fellow went over to the grocery store and helped himself to pretty much all the booze they had left. He started making all sorts of noise in the parking lot, ‘I’m the last man on Earth,’ crap like that. I left a little light on in the shop here, enough to see by — I expected looters, so I was staying for the night. I don’t know why, but he started running around screaming and banging on lampposts, throwing carts around, that kind of idiocy. I stuck my head out the door and told him to go have another drink, and he came a-running. I backed into the store, he busted out the display window with a crowbar, and I shot him. Don’t know if it killed him or not, but he went away. Loudly. I swept up the glass and put up the plywood yesterday morning, then went and got the sign. My ex-girlfriend painted the plywood last year… I was going to put it on one of the walls, but never got around to it. Good thing I had it, though.”

“We were just over at the Target, picking up some supplies,” Tina said. “It was trashed pretty good. Maybe he was the one.”

“Yeah, it only takes one to make a mess. But enough of that. I think we were talking about setting up this young lady with new wheels?”

“I’m no lady,” Sara laughed, “but you can call me Sara Karsten. Nothing too expensive.”

“Ha! They’re all the same price now — for customers and visitors, it’s on the house. But something not too finicky, I presume. I think I have another bike like Ms. Ball’s here that will fit you.”

Cody cleared his throat. “Um… if you’re giving out free samples, do you think you could set me up with a mountain bike? I like my stunt bike OK, I got it here last year. But if I have to go everywhere on a bike, I think I’ll need something different. Something that’ll take a knockin’ and keep on rockin’.”

Tim laughed. “I think we can arrange that. And the other young lady here?”

Kelly shook her head. “I’m okay with what I have,” she said. “But if you want to tune it up, or whatever, I’d appreciate it.”

As Tim was getting Sara’s and Cody’s bikes ready, Tina asked, “Tim, what do you think about joining our little group here? My ex and some of his friends down in Atlanta contacted us, and they think we’d all be better off banding together — either downtown or out here. I don’t know what your situation is, but you’re welcome to come along. There’s a couple of houses in our development that were abandoned by their owners — I know where the keys are, and we’ve kept them maintained. I was thinking we’d put Sara in one. You can have the other.”

Tim looked at the ceiling for a moment. “How far did you say it was? Eight miles?”

“About. It took us 45 minutes to get here.”

“Yeah, because I was slowin’ you guys down,” Cody grumbled. “A stunter ain’t made for traveling.”

“If you hadn’t been showing off, jumping curbs and bouncing around on it,” Kelly grinned, “we might have got here a little sooner.”

“I could probably make it in 20 minutes, if I had to,” Tim said. “I’ve got the gear, and I’m in shape. Sure… it’s probably a good idea. I’ve got some work to do here, so if you guys have any more shopping to do, you can take care of it.”

“If you don’t mind, I’ll stay here and give you a hand, or just watch,” Cody said. “I can spin a wrench or whatever.”

“Cody, I’d feel better if you were with us,” Tina said. “We know there are — or were — looters around, and I don’t think three women should be wandering around by ourselves.”

“Why? Chromosome!” Cody said, standing and joining the women. Tim snorted, Sara and Tina looked confused, Kelly rolled her eyes and turned toward the shoe store. “Yeah, bad pun,” he said. They left Tim to his work.


Thursday, November 19, 2009 9 comments

Fall is Fell, The Boy is Sprung

Current music: Philosomatika

The Boy - Get Out of Jail Free card

After the usual delays and bobbles associated with the court system on Planet Georgia, Mrs. Fetched brought The Boy home this afternoon. Of course, there was the obligatory stop needed at the apartment to get him some clothes, and then they stopped at the mechanic’s to pick up my car (Mrs. Fetched had guessed right about the problem being the thermostat). Meanwhile, Snippet was at the house, jittering, jiving, cavorting, and just plain being a giddy female-type while I was trying to work. (It didn’t help my productivity that Mason was having a colic spazz this morning.)

So the upshot of his latest episode: time served, a year probation, “family counseling” (a family-oriented anger management class), a $500 fine offset by the amount of his counseling, and probably a couple things I’m forgetting. He also lost his job. Perhaps the most onerous (to him) part is no booze throughout his probation. Yeah right, like that’s gonna happen. I just hope he doesn’t end up violating his probation.

I may have to do a 2.0 version of TBxx errors.

Monday, November 16, 2009 3 comments

White Pickups, Episode 9


Monday, September 19, 2011

The electricity went out early Monday morning. There was still water in the pipes, but the pressure noticeably lessened as the morning went on. Tina and Kelly filled all the containers they could find and started a list of things they needed. About the time they finished their list, Cody rode up their driveway on his bicycle.

“Hey guys,” he said when Kelly opened the door. “Your power out too?”

“Yes, it is,” Tina said. “We’re going to go look for a generator and some gas cans and bottled water. I figure we can siphon gas out of the QuickFill tanks somehow. Kelly worked there, she knows where the keys are.”

“Well, I can save you part of your trip,” Cody said. “Dad had a couple generators, I got one hooked up to the fridge and some lights this morning. And my Playstation. You can have the other one, just bring that trailer bike down to my place and we’ll load it up. He had a handpump too, we can siphon gas with that. So if you’re okay about me coming along, could we get some extra gas cans for me?”

Two white pickups stood waiting at the gate. Kelly stopped short, Tina behind. Cody, bringing up the rear, slipped around them and past the pickups to the gate. He pushed it open, and the trucks rolled through and quickly blended into those on the side streets. “Come on,” he said, waving to Tina and Kelly; after they rode through, he closed the gate behind him. “I think that was all of them,” he grinned. “Maybe they won’t come back in if we keep the gates closed.”

“God, I hope so,” Kelly said, glaring at the departing trucks. “I hate even looking at them.”

The ride to Pleasant Hill was uneventful. As always, the trucks were quiet, unobtrusive, and polite. They moved on to their target, a Target.

“Good God, what a mess,” Cody said, playing his flashlight across the floor. “Looters do this?”

“Probably,” Tina said. “I guess it’s not enough for them to steal things, they have to trash the place too.”

“So there are other people around. We were right.”

“Maybe. Maybe they did this on Friday, then drove off. I saw a guy come out of the Saver-Market on Friday with two shopping carts full of beer. He left it there and climbed into a white pickup.”

Cody shivered. A moment later, Kelly’s phone rang, making them all jump. She fished it out of her pocket, giving her mom a shrug.

“Hello? Daddy? You’re okay? Yeah, we both are… just us and another kid from the community, I think we’re the only ones who didn’t drive off. The power’s out, so we’re getting gas cans and candles and stuff. Yeah, that’s what we’re calling it. Is everyone else okay down there? … Oh, Daddy, I’m sorry. How many? Oh. Um, sure, I’ll check.” She lowered the phone. “He wants to talk to you, Mom.”

Tina hesitated, then took the phone and walked toward the front of the store. “Hello, Charles.”

“Hi Tina. I was worried about you and Kelly, but we were having some trouble down here too.”

“Trouble? What kind of trouble?”

“Looters. Bashers. Typical weekend in post-apocalypse Atlanta.”

“Right. But it’s over?”

“Yeah. We were a little better armed than they thought we’d be. The looters weren’t interested in anyone who was going to fight back, but the bashers needed a little more persuasion.”

“Is everyone okay then?”

“Well, we lost Trey Muldoon, and a couple guys got wounded, nothing serious. James… he didn’t exactly drive off. But some of those pickups were stopped at a red light last night, before the power went out. He opened the passenger door on one and jumped in just as the light turned green.”


“Look, I don’t know how long the cellphone towers will stay live now that the power’s out — maybe one or two days if we’re lucky. I ’d like to come up and see you and Kelly tomorrow. There will be two or three of us — we found out the hard way that traveling alone is a bad idea. I don’t know how you feel about moving down here, or us all moving up there, but we all agree that it would be best if the holdouts stuck together. Think about it, OK?”

“Holdouts, good name. Sure, come on up, it’s not like we can’t find room for you, ha ha.”

“Yeah, same here. If the phones are still working in the morning, I’ll call you before we leave. It shouldn’t take two hours to get there.”

“Okay, Charles. We’ll see you then. I’ll talk to the others about what you said. Bye.”


Kelly stood alone as Tina returned. “Where’s Cody?”

“He went to check —”

“Jeez, guys,” Cody said, rounding the aisle at the far end. “You ought to see the beer and wine aisle. Picked. Clean. They even took the neon signs. Looks like whoever did it couldn’t wait to get outside, there’s empties all over the place. It’s a wonder they found the door.”

“That doesn’t surprise me in the least,” Tina said. “Well, let’s get what we came for.” They fanned out, carts in hand, to get gas cans, canned goods, candles, lanterns, propane canisters, camp toilets, and a pair of cookstoves.

Tina’s phone sounded its default ringtone as they left the building. The Caller ID showed an unfamiliar number. “Does Charles have this number?” she asked, thumbing the answer button. “Hello?”

“Hello, Miz Tina… I don’t know if you remember me. Sara, from the Saver-Market? You bought that cartload of groceries on Friday?”

“Yes! Sara! Are you all right?”

“Well, the power is out at my house now. I was wondering if perhaps I could join you. There don’t seem to be many of us left, and my car… or what it’s become… keeps annoying me and won’t let me sleep well.”

“We’re just down the street —”

“Looting a big-box!” Cody called. Tina gave him the look, and he turned away.

“Do you think you could meet us in front of the grocery store? We’ll pick up some more canned goods.”

“Certainly,” Sara said. “The emergency power should still be running at the store, I was told it would last for a day if need be. I’ll see you there. And thank you so much.”


Thursday, November 12, 2009 8 comments

Never a Dull Moment

Mason sleeping on my robeMason is cruising right along, development-wise… and slobbering like he’s cutting teeth already. He’s also started fighting sleep through the day — if he can manage, he’ll get by on 20-minute catnaps through the day and he can get pretty cranky when he can’t keep going. He stayed awake when I took him out in the stroller with Snippet this afternoon… and we got about half the walk done. I had to carry him for the last stretch; he didn’t conk out and snooze this time. Sometimes I can prop him up on a couple pillows and get a little keyboarding done, but that only lasts 10 minutes tops. [EDIT: That's my robe he's sleeping on. Snippet had his laundry in the crib.]

So… remember The Boy’s little incident back in February? They’d continued to put off his court date, and he managed to miss the one he was supposed to attend on Monday. The court doesn’t have much of a sense of humor concerning those things, and they came by the manor looking for him Tuesday afternoon then yanked him off the factory floor that evening. The real killer was, if he had bothered to remember and show up, there’s a pretty good chance they would have dropped the charges and he would have been shut of the whole sordid mess. Now, he’s sitting in the clink in Historic Forsyth County until his (rather expensive) lawyer that Mrs. Fetched found for him can get him out. I just hope he’ll have a job to return to, so he can pay the lawyer.

Working at home yesterday (and today), Mrs. Fetched and I had to run to the chiro-cracker late in the morning. I jumped in the car; she said “When did you spill gasoline on yourself?”

“I didn’t,” I said, smelling my shirt. “I haven’t handled gas since Friday.”

Coming out of the chiro-cracker, we smelled gas again and I opened the trunk. It did smell quite a bit. “You must have spilled some gas when you were helping that woman get her car started Friday night.” (She ran out of gas in the turn lane, ahead of me… better to carry her a few hundred yards than let her risk her life trying to cross GA400 in the dark.) I guess that was possible, so we zipped over to Zaxby’s. The lawyer called her just as we were getting out, and I walked over to the building to get out of the parking lot… and saw gas dripping underneath the car. Fortunately, I had the mechanic’s number in my phone, so I called and made sure we could bring the car in after lunch. As it turns out, we didn’t make it… ran out of gas less than two miles short of the turn into his shop. Mrs. Fetched called the tow service and we got it over there. Turned out a rat chewed the fuel line — just more proof that reality is stranger than fiction at FAR Manor. I hope that little so&so poisoned itself! This was familiar territory… the shower fix that turned into a water leak last month was the product of a rat chewing the water line. The plumber left us the affected piece as a souvenir (which Mrs. Fetched tossed before I had a chance to get a picture) and a note saying we did a really nice job on the shower.

So Snippet has been here since Tuesday. She and DoubleRed have been getting on each others’ nerves, until finally DoubleRed started growling at Snippet this afternoon while I was trying to work. Snippet said, “I’m leaving now,” and walked out of the room; DoubleRed slammed her door open and stormed into the kitchen. I yelled at them both to cool it, and they kept it down until they were finally able to work out their differences. At least I assume they did; they’ve been fairly cordial and even slightly chummy since then. At least DoubleRed has gone somewhere for the evening… maybe if they don’t see each other much they can keep up the happy babble.

Work also picked a fine week to go ka-boom, and taught me that not all schedule slips are a positive “development” for me. A major project that was supposed to be done by the end of the month is now sliding out to the end of December… but with a major re-think about the feature set. So out with half the stuff I’ve done with it to date, in with whatever is going to go in (I’m supposed to get a high-level list Real Soon Now). This is turning into one of those things that suck all the oxygen out of the other projects — both hardware and software — going on; my boss is telling his boss that pretty much everything else I’m doing has to be pushed out. Vacations are being canceled, and I was planning to burn the 7 days I’m not officially allowed to carry over at Thanksgiving and Christmas. That too has been worked out… with any luck, I’ll take two weeks at the end of January and spend it in Florida. Sitting on the beach, 500+ miles from FAR Manor and the office, sounds like just the thing.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009 1 comment

White Pickups, Conversations: Kelly Ball


Hi. I’m Tina Kelly Ball…

So you go by your middle name?

Yeah. I got my mom’s first name and my dad’s middle name. It’s just easier to tell us apart if I go by Kelly.

Right. School…

I’m a junior this year, or was. I don’t guess I’ll be going back to school any time soon.

Were you in any extracurricular activities?

I was on the JV basketball team as a starter. I got called up to varsity for a few weeks last year, when Keri Graham got the flu. I mostly sat on the bench, but I played 6 minutes and 12 seconds in the first game (yes, I looked it up!), and got one assist. The coach put me in because he said Jenna Shafer was slacking. They all played a lot harder after that, I guess they didn’t want to get benched for the girl up from JV, but I got to play the last 3:07 in the last game when Andreya Nicoles fouled out. After that, Keri was OK to play and I went back to JV. It was a big difference, going back and seeing how sloppy the other kids were. I tried to get them to step it up a notch, and they did for a little while.

So you’re a natural leader. :-)

Not really. I’ll speak up if nobody else does, if something needs to be done, but that’s about it.

Tell us about your parents.

Well, Dad’s gay, but he wouldn’t even admit it to himself until about five years ago. Mom took it really hard when he told her, I guess it had to do with how she was brought up. My grandparents on her side are really cold people, not the kind you’d think about doing anything fun with. Mom got a long way away from them, but she can’t get away from her programming, right? I usually go see Dad once a month or so, spend the weekend with him. It’s a lot different from suburbia, kind of exciting. It feels dangerous. Then there’s all these cute guys around, but they’re all interested in each other, that’s kind of a letdown.

It doesn’t bother you about your dad, then.

Not really. He’s always been my dad, that’s what’s important. I don’t exactly go around broadcasting it at school, you know how some kids are.

Do you have a boyfriend?

Just a few dates, nothing serious. I haven’t heard from any of my friends since Friday… I guess they’re all gone too. Now there’s Cody… I don’t know how I feel about him. I really didn’t want to date him, but if I had to marry him that wouldn’t be so bad. Weird, huh?

We’re just so different. He reminds me in a way of some of the guys downtown when I go to visit Dad, except Cody’s obviously straight. But he’s really useful to have around. He has his own way of looking at stuff, and I guess that’s really good now because everything’s different.

So what do you think happened?

I wish I knew. I wish I could put it back the way it was. There were a lot of decent people that drove off, I was almost one of them.

Back to Episode 8…

Monday, November 09, 2009 2 comments

White Pickups, Episode 8


“They all look alike,” Cody said, glaring at the white pickup in Tina’s garage. “Well, gimme the key. I’ll reach in, throw it in neutral, and we can push it down the driveway.”

“We don’t have the key,” Tina said. “I flushed it down the toilet last night so it would stop bothering Kelly.” Kelly stood outside the garage, hugging herself and looking worried. “But it still bothers her.”

“Well shit, how are we gonna get it out of gear then?” Cody shook his head; his hair again fell across one eye. He swept it back. “Why don’t we just push on it? It might be out of gear already.”

“You think so?” Kelly asked.

“Might be worth a try.” He walked around to the front of the truck, leaned into the truck and pushed. “Oh, shut your pie hole, I don’t wanna be like you or anyone else,” Cody said to the truck. “Hey, I think it moved! C’mon guys, let’s shove this sucker out!” Tina joined him at the front of the truck. The two of them strained, and the truck started to roll. “Keep it going!” Cody spun around and put his back to the truck, pushing hard with his legs. The truck rolled out of the garage, onto the driveway, then gravity took over and it rolled faster, dropping Cody to the pavement. It rolled into the street, across, then hit the curb and rolled part way into the yard across the street.

“That oughtta do it,” Cody said, standing up and looking pleased with the minor mayhem. “I figure it’ll be gone in the morning.”

“Good,” Kelly said, glaring at the truck.

Cody jumped on his skateboard. “Where are you going?” Tina asked.

“Home, to get some tools. I want to have a look at what makes those things go.”

Tina and Kelly looked at each other as Cody rolled away. “He’s weird,” Kelly said. “But at least he’s not creepy. I’m not sure I’d date him though, even if he is the last boy on Earth.”

“We found one person,” Tina said, “and if we found one there’s bound to be more.”

Cody returned in about ten minutes, riding his “stunter” — a small bike with a tall seat post and handlebars — and carrying a tool bag slung over his shoulder. He rolled up the driveway then walked back down to the truck, now half in the street and half in the Gupta’s yard. Tina came out to watch, and thought about the Guptas for a moment — Indian immigrants, friendly enough in those brief encounters they had. They worked long hours and dreamed of taking their citizenship tests in a few more years. They must have driven away too — and what about their two children?

Cody reached a hand through the grille, felt around for a moment, then bent down and looked. “Where’s the hood latch on this stupid thing?” He stood and looked at the truck again. “Ah, crap!” he yelled, banging a ratchet on the pickup. “It’s all one piece! They didn’t even weld the hood shut, they just made it part of the body!”


“Yeah, you can’t get inside.” He turned away, looking disgusted, and walked up the driveway to his bicycle. “I guess I could get a blowtorch and try cutting it open, but I don’t care enough right now.

“Well, it’s been surreal. Guess I’ll go on back home. I’m on Crepe Myrtle if you need me — go back to Laurel Drive, turn right, follow it down to Crepe Myrtle, and turn right again. My place is on the left, the only one with lights. I might have the garage door open if I’ve been outside.”

“Do you want to stay for supper? You’ve been a really big help.”

“Nah. I appreciate the burgers, though. I get the idea that Kelly doesn’t want me around that much anyway. But that’s okay, I’ve never expected much of anything from people and I’m not gonna start now. Thanks again for the burgers.”

“Well, if you need us for any reason, you know where we are too. Let’s stay in touch, especially since there might not be more of us.”

“You really think that? I don’t. There’s gotta be more people out there. We just gotta find ’em.” Cody mounted his bike. “See you guys. Tomorrow sometime, I guess.” He rode away.


Conversations: Kelly Ball

Friday, November 06, 2009 No comments

The Week of Stuff

Mason and his great-grandmotherMason, contemplating the import of a story his great-grandmother is telling about the “good” old days. I’m not sure he’s buying it. He’s two months old today… wow, has it been that long/short?

The grandkid is definitely starting to develop a personality, complete with a few quirks and routines. For example, if he finishes his bottle and isn’t going to sleep right away, he likes to play a bit. I’ll stand him up in my lap, and he will invariably: jump twice, stamp his left foot twice, his right foot twice, then march. He’s getting stronger all the time; his legs support most of his 11 pounds and change, and he’s always had a good grip.

The “high”light of the week with him was yesterday evening. He was hitting the bottle with his normal enthusiasm, when he stretched out, grunted a couple times, then I heard — and felt — and smelled — pbpbpbbbbttttt from the nether regions. He continued his bottle-draining (and farting) for a couple more minutes, until I figured he was done. Turned out the storm wasn’t over, it was just the “eye” of the hurricane… I opened up the diaper, saw the nuclear waste dump, and began decontaminating the waste outlet. When I hoisted him up by the feet to change the shielding, phpbpbpbbbbtttt went the alarm and I clapped the diaper back over him. Lather, rinse, repeat.

“I didn’t think he was done!” Mrs. Fetched said, ever so helpfully after the fact. "You weren’t finished, were you?” she asked him. He grinned, quite pleased with the minor mayhem he caused.

SeatsShortly after the atomic waste issue, Mrs. Fetched and I headed over to Reinhardt for Daughter Dearest’s fall concert. We had planned to go, then she texted us earlier in the day and said it was sold out (at $2/seat, why not?) — then two seats came open and we were on again! Our seats were almost exactly in the middle of the hall, so I didn’t have the clear view of the stage I had for the Phylicia Rashad concert back in the spring. I took a few shots of DD and some of her friends, and the daughter of the lady sitting next to us, then a few artsy-fart shots like this one. I wound up putting the telephoto zoom on and getting closeups.

Mrs. Fetched was concerned about the clacking of the camera — mechanical shutters do tend to make a fair amount of noise in a venue, as we learned last weekend, shooting the community chorale — but I did my best to not pull the trigger during rests. In fact, a couple ladies behind us wanted to know what kind of camera I had; the EOS 40D has a large-ish (3-inch) display that provides a pretty good image of what you just got and they were looking at the preview (post-views?) after each shot.

The weekend is upon us… but every day is Monday when you have a chicken house. I’m hoping that since Daughter Dearest decided to come home for the weekend, that she’ll give me a reprieve, but I’m not holding my breath. I leave you with a shot from the chorale last weekend…


And I’ve had enough to drink that going to bed early sounds like a really good idea.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009 3 comments

White Pickups, Conversations: Cody Sifko


Cody Sifko, sophomore, 674-00-8831.


Name, rank, and serial number.

That’s your Social Security number.

Whatever. Skateboarder extraordinaire, too. I like to play video games, I have a guitar but I’m not that good with it. I turned 16 last month, got my driver’s license right after, but I don’t have my own car. I drove to school and Mom rode shotgun and drove home, that’s about all the driving I did. I don’t guess it matters now.

So Kelly…

Yeah. We lived in the same subdivision, went to the same school, and didn’t know each other. It is kinda whack, when you think about it. We both kept mostly to ourselves, that’s about all we had in common. She was doing the study hard-get good grades-college bound thing. Me, I was just trying to avoid the jocks and preps who seemed to think I was their personal chew toy.

School sucks like that. I remember.

Yeah. Home was a little better, but pretty much the same thing. School and home, they all wanted me to be someone else. Like them.

Pressure or force.

You got it. My dad, he wanted me to be a man, or his idea of one. So I had to learn how to work on cars, fix wiring, work the grill. And drink the occasional beer, I didn’t have a problem with that! But he poured it in a soda can in case Mom came out to see what we were doing. I just went along with it because I had to, until he said something about being “self-sufficient.” That was the word I’d been looking for since I was like ten — self-sufficient. I didn’t want to have to depend on anyone for anything, because I learned a long time ago: when you depend on someone they want to change you. So then I started really paying attention to stuff that Dad was showing me. It made him happy, but I don’t think he realized that I was learning to be free — free of him and his ideas of what a man is.

So that’s why you’re so resourceful?

Yeah. I got a job at Breakbeat Music, that’s the CD and movie store in the mall, so I didn’t have to depend on my parents to get me a new skateboard or a video game when I wanted one. Or CDs, sure, they let me borrow stuff from the store. I ripped it into my computer and brought it back.

How did you get to work and back, then?

Bicycle, mostly, through the week. Once in a while, I could bum a ride from school if I was working afternoons. Mom took me on weekends, I guess it gave her an excuse to hit the Macy’s or wherever. I like being outside, at least during the day, and between that and skateboarding I’m in decent shape.

You seem like you’re in pretty good shape. Did you try any sports? I know you don’t like the jocks either, but…

I’m not big enough for football, and I don’t care for basketball too much. Dad pushed me into going out for track, and I did okay with the 880 and mile runs. Not a star, but not at the back either. I did it last year, skipped the tryouts this year.

You look emo… but you’re not, are you?.

Yeah, I heard it from the preps all the time — “emo kid.” It was the look I had before I even heard about emos. But you know? It cuts both ways. I’m not trying to look like anyone else, but I’m not trying to not look like anyone else, either.

How about your grades?

I kept my grades up pretty good. Mostly As and Bs. I was hoping to get some kind of scholarship so I wouldn’t have to depend on my parents for college.

Did you have a major picked out, then?

Yeah, I wanted to do videogame development. There’s a lot of work that goes into videogames — programming, music, graphics, design, backgrounds — it’s like working on a major movie. I’m not a huge gamer myself, I like to play, yeah, but it looked like a better career than my parents would think. But if they paid for me to go to college, they would have wanted me to do a two-year degree, and be an electrician or welder or something. Dad showed me how to splice wires and weld stuff — I fixed a busted skate truck once — but I don’t think it would have been much fun to do all day long.

Right. So what do you think happened?

I dunno. Actually, I think it was just a matter of too many people using up too much stuff, and the earth just rose up and swallowed us up. Maybe it took all the conformist-types because it thought the rest of us could make a better world with the others out of the way? I dunno. My parents drove off first thing Thursday morning, and my little sister went with them. I miss her, mom kinda, too. My dad, not so much. I know that’s bad, but I can’t help feeling that way. I mostly stayed out of trouble, did the chores they gave me, kept my grades up… but somehow it wasn’t enough. Yeah, I guess I miss them all. I don’t miss them wanting me to be someone else, though.

Back to Episode 7…

Monday, November 02, 2009 4 comments

White Pickups, Episode 7


Part II

They called it the Truckalypse, the Devil’s Rapture, the Forever Road Trip. Those who refused the call began to gather together…

Saturday, September 17, 2011

“Tell me why we’re doing this again, Mom?”

“Well, for one,” Tina said, standing to pedal up the incline to the pool parking lot, “it’s a beautiful day, and we’ve got the place to ourselves. Two, if there’s anyone else around, they’ll be here or maybe in the clubhouse. And three, if they’re not here but they smell us grilling burgers, maybe they’ll come get some. We’ll never eat this much meat ourselves.”

They heard a rolling noise, then a splash, from behind the fence as they stopped in front of the pool gate. No other vehicles to be seen. They chained the bikes to the lightpost then peeked into the pool area, just in time to see a kid in bright orange swim trunks and a black t-shirt ride his skateboard into the pool. As he went over the edge, he and the skateboard jumped; the skateboard rolled under his feet and came back upright just in time for the kid’s feet to land on the board and then in the water.

Tina and Kelly picked up the coolers and grill and opened the gate. The kid was just climbing out of the pool; he saw Tina and Kelly and gaped for a moment before grabbing his board and standing.

“Sorry,” he said, shaking the water out of his long black hair, “I didn’t think anyone else was around. You’re still real, right?”

“Real?” Kelly asked. “You mean, not tooling around in a white pickup?”

“Yeah. I’m Cody Sifko. I live down on Crepe Myrtle.”

“I’m Tina Ball, and this is my daughter Kelly. Would you like to join us for lunch?”

“Sure! You grillin’ burgers? Anything beats peanut butter, I’ve been livin’ off peanut butter and cereal since Thursday.”

“So why didn’t you just drive away?” Kelly asked, fishing a Diet Coke out of the larger cooler.

“I heard it talking to me,” Cody said, “I just ignored it. The rest of my family, though…” he looked down, which made his hair fall over one eye.

“Ignored it. Just like that.” Kelly crossed her arms and glared.

“Sure.” Then seeing Kelly’s look, “But I had lots of practice. I mean, all my dam’ life, it’s been ‘why can’t you be like XYZ’ or ‘you need to be this or that’ — don’t even get me started about high school. Everyone’s wanted me to be anyone but me, and that’s what the truck said: be one of us. F— forget that, why can’t I just be who I am?”

“We had some trouble yesterday, Cody,” Tina said, trying to smooth things over. “It shook us both up pretty bad. But we decided we’re here, and even if we didn’t sleep too well last night, we’re going to try to find out what happened and see how many people are… left. Are you any good with a grill? I haven’t done it much.”

“Yeah, my dad made me help him a few times,” Cody said. “You stack the charcoal in a pyramid — here, let me — then hit it with some lighter fluid.” He piled up the charcoal then squirted on a generous helping of lighter fluid. “You really don’t need that much, but I like a big poof when you light it. That’s how I always did it when my dad wasn’t watching.” He grinned. “Match? Okay, stand back…” he struck a match and tossed it into the grill from a few feet away; it barked and shot a small ball of flame into the air. “Yeah, good one! Now you open a beer and let it sit for 20 minutes or so until the charcoal turns white. You got a beer?”

Tina shook her had. “Sorry. Just soft drinks.”

“I figured. No problem.” He walked around the pool and took a Bud from a small soft-sided cooler before rejoining them. “Either of you guys want one? Dad always had a few cases around.”

“No thanks,” Tina said for them both. “Cody? Do you still hear it calling you?”

“No… they called me to come work Thursday night — I worked at Breakbeat Music, in the mall — and when I came out, Mom’s car was gone and the truck was sitting out there at the curb. It started talking to me, I flipped it off and went back inside. I called Breakbeat and told them my car wouldn’t start, and fooled around the rest of the evening. It was gone the next morning.”

“That’s why I didn’t sleep last night,” Kelly admitted. “Ours is still in the garage. You think if we got it out of there somehow, it would go away too?”

“It might. I guess we could try it.” Cody put his beer can next to the grill, then jumped back into the pool. “It’s a little cold, but it feels good when you get used to it! You guys might as well jump in while we’re waiting for the grill to warm up.”

“Oh, why not?” Kelly said, removing her shorts and t-shirt to reveal the one-piece suit beneath. “It’ll be too cold to swim pretty soon anyway.” She dived in from the side.

“Hey, you ever ride a skateboard? Landing it in the pool’s a trip!” Cody grinned.


Conversations: Cody Sifko


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