Wednesday, October 29, 2008


We all make memorable friends during our lives. We connect to them on a level that involves companionship, camaraderie , humor, love and many other levels. They are those whose memory will live on with us for the rest of our lives. In a previous essay I mentioned immortality and how it can be easily achieved so I won't return to that but I'll offer a bit of fiction instead to lighten up the otherwise serious tone of some of the previous essays.

I once had a wonderful friend named John Heath. He was about the age of my father and we clicked pretty much right away. He was often out of town but when he was in town he'd drop by the house and take me with him on a visit to his farm out near Buffalo Texas. In the evenings we'd play scrabble and talk about life. He introduced me to the writings of Khalil Gibran, John Donne, Rudyard Kipling and many others and sometimes he told stories. He wanted to be a writer someday, a dream he never realized before his death. I'm not sure if he ever committed any of his stories to manuscript and if so they've surely been lost by now as this was long before the internet and compositing was done on typewriters instead of computers. Because of the effects he had upon my life and the way he opened me to new ideas I've taken the liberty of taking one of his subjects and building it into the story he never had a chance to set to paper. I offer the following story to you as a way to enjoy time spent reading and as a tribute to John Heath, my irrepressible friend.

The Marvelous Post Hole Threader or Why I Never Got Rich.

Have you ever had one of those mornings that dawned bright and clear and cool with the promise of heat later in the day still delayed and you find that before the world awakes you've got time for a quiet cup of coffee and some happy reminiscences before you've got to go out and spoil it all with working and noise and aggravation.

It was a bright summer morning just about like that recently and as I was finishing my coffee I was sitting and thinking about my misspent youth and all the opportunities for fortune and fame I let slip through my fingers for one reason and another and none of those ever brings quite the same feelings of exhilaration and loss as the summer of the Marvelous Post Hole Machine.

Like all the best stories I guess I'd better start at the beginning of this one and tell you about my buddy John. That way you won't miss all the fun later when the going gets deeper.

I don't really recall the exact circumstances of when I first met John. He was just one of those people that wandered in like a stray cat and every time you looked around he hadn't wandered off home yet, but you would've liked him just as I did. He was that sort of person, likable. It was nigh on impossible to dislike John. He was always wrapped up in some new scheme and eager to share the fun and the wealth that it was sure to bring.

As a matter of interest it was always good to sit a little back from the edge of the table when he got wound up talking about his latest discovery because he'd get to eating and talking and drinking his coffee and first thing you know he was chewing his coffee and drinking his words and putting a fine spray of sandwich across whatever poor sod was sitting opposite him. I choked on a few cups of coffee myself while trying to keep a straight face at John's antics and the dismay of his unfortunate victims, but he was just like an eager puppy at times like that and it was nearly impossible to stay mad at him, even while you raked the potato salad off the front of your shirt.

I guess that one of the things that always surprised me about John was his mechanical ability. He would do things that seemingly defied all known laws of mechanics and physics and for which was, to none of us who knew him, able to explain to any of our satisfaction. Like the time that he decided his tool box was too heavy.

It seemed innocent enough to start with. He reached over to pick up his box and go over to the milling department at the shop we were employed by and as it slid off the edge of the table it just kept on going down and down and at the sound of the crash that raised the adrenaline level of the rest of the crew we all turned as one to see John, all arms and legs akimbo, atop a large pile of scattered tools and various other implements that John had a way of collecting along with other unidentified objects that seemed to collect themselves when he was around. I suppose it would have just been a nuisance, except to Charlie who spilled his coffee in his lap, but for the silly grin on John's face. We all exchanged knowing looks and I just shook my head and picked up my tools and went on over to the milling department because we all knew that when John got that silly grin on his face something unusual was bound to happen next.

Sure enough when I got back to the shop John was bent over the workbench banging and hammering and talking to himself then soldering things into what might have been some sort of electrical circuit as well as throwing stuff over his shoulder as discards and then scampering around to find that same stuff again or maybe finding something else instead and carrying each new treasure back to the bench. We never bothered him when he got like that because mostly it didn't do any good. He never seemed to know that we were around and actually we kind of had to watch what was within reach of John at those times. I saw him take a sip of motor oil one time and then swallow it and his only comment was that the pot ought to get washed out because the last batch of coffee was a little heavy, not to mention cold. So, we mostly just watched out for the open flammables and lubricants and stayed out of the way until he was finished.

He did come up with some wonderful stuff though. There was the floor polisher he modified. It looked normal on the outside, just a big old rotary floor polisher. It was when he turned it on that it got strange. It made a sort of high whining noise that I learned later was called ultrasonic and it would sort of make your eyeballs itch and your teeth ache while it was running. But what it did! Just after he finished it he wanted to show it off so just to make sure it got a workout he took it out on the sidewalk in front of the offices and proceeded to polish the sidewalk and I do mean "Polish" with a capital "P"! When he hit the switch and it turned on, first Bill. another of the shop crew. let out a yelp of pain, clutched his jaw and lit out like a devil was chasing him (it turned out later that he had fillings in his teeth). Then a sort of glow came from the polishing pad and as John moved the polisher back and forth across the sidewalk, the rough concrete became slick like glass! As John happily polished his way down the sidewalk we gathered around to look at the surface left behind, It looked like polished marble!. A few years later some clever soul invented teflon by accident and I recognized the feel immediately, it was just like John's sidewalk!

That invention didn't work out too well because about three days later it rained and that beautiful slick sidewalk just melted away. I don't mean just the slick surface either... I mean the whole sidewalk! I seem to remember that the management wasn't all too happy about that little incident but nothing ever came of it.

It was always that way with John. At first everybody was loud and upset and then he'd get that silly grin and everybody just seemed to forget about it after a while.

Back to the story of the toolbox though. I guess John didn't really wake up to the world again until late that afternoon when he straightened up, smiled and tossed the little gadget he'd created into the bottom of his tool box and picked up the whole 150 lbs. of it in one hand and went home.

When I asked him about it later he just said it made the box lighter and bigger and really wasn't much of a gadget anyway. I never noticed the box being larger but I know I couldn't fit that many tools in my box and still lift it and, to be truthful, I probably couldn't fit that many tools in my box anyway! But John, all spindly 150 lbs. of him, would grab that box in one hand and walk off like it was a feather pillow. I also noticed that it always seemed to have a slight shimmer like maybe you had something in your eye when you looked directly at it, but we were used to John and his gadgets by then and never really asked more about it, and it wouldn't have mattered anyway. We never understood his explanations and usually we were fairly sure he didn't either.

The summer of the Marvelous Post Hole Machine came about because of work lay-offs at the plant during a seasonal slow down. We all had our own departments to service and when we had finished orders for the standing contracts we'd get some time off every summer to go on and do other stuff that had collected during the winter or just go fishing or farming or whatever. Then when business picked up again we'd all just go back in and start over. That particular summer was to be very, very different in very memorable ways though because of the contracts we finished up. It seems like some of the parts we made were for obsolete equipment of some sort that had to have parts made for the requisite 10 or 20 years because of some government regulation and when we finished that batch there wouldn't be any more so it looked like we'd be looking for jobs elsewhere this time as we all shook hands and said our goodbyes. John in particular looked just like a lost puppy as he stood there in the parking lot holding that strange toolbox of his. I clapped him on the shoulder and told him to give me a call later if he didn't get busy and we'd have a beer together. Little did I suspect then, as I headed home, how that invitation was going to be the start of one of the stranger adventures I would ever have.

It was about two weeks after that last goodbye and summer was beginning to kick in with lots of sunshine and warmth. I was sitting at home one evening with a beer in one hand and the fan sort of lazily stirring the evening around while listening to the crickets tuning up for a noisy concerto when my musing was interrupted by a extremely loud and vigorous hammering on the screen door. There stood John with that silly grin pasted all over his face looking at me through the screen and just kind of holding his hand up in that sort of knocking pose like he didn't quite know how to put his hand back down. Actually I suppose I shouldn't say he was looking through the screen because he had his nose up against it so hard that it made a dent in the wire mesh that stayed there long after the nose that made it was removed. To say that I was surprised was a somewhat of an understatement because I'd been kind of dozing and when John commenced hammering on the door I woke up a little suddenly, actually more than a little! I fell off the chair and my beer went flying along with the cat I'd had in my lap and the dog started barking and my heart was hammering like I'd just been electrocuted, so maybe I was more than a just a "little" surprised.

In any case, there stood John with his nose in the screen and that silly grin all over his face, with his hand in the air and that sort of sparkle in his eyes that always went with the silly grin and the odd inventions. Sticking out of every pocket were the bits and scraps of paper that were the entire history of a new invention aborning in John's fertile if somewhat unorthodox brain.

As I scrambled to untangle myself from the chair, the cat, the dog, the beer and everything else that had jumped in when it saw a disaster happening, John came on in the house and proceeded to stand around in the way and help by getting me further tangled up in the pileup until I finally just lay there in a puddle of warm beer and wondered if cat scratches and noise trauma were fatal. By the end of that summer I sort of wished they had been because that was to be the summer of the Marvelous Post Hole Machine.

Later, after the cat was out, the dog was quiet, I had the mess mopped up or picked up and had fortified myself with another beer or two I was ready to hear all about John's latest scheme to make us all rich and famous and you had all best believe me when I say that it was a real humdinger!

In a flurry of spraying beer and a small tornado of flying bits of paper and waving arms John proceeded to tell me all about how there were miles and miles of dry oil wells all abandoned and just waiting to be pulled out of the ground and cut up for fence post holes and he had all the stuff to do it, designed and ready to be built and put to work.

Now did you catch all that? I mean you're sitting all comfortable and dry and happy with no distractions and did that all just make sense? No? Well then, you can sort of know how I must have felt when I heard it, sitting there hurting from the table that had attacked me during my ignominious fall from grace and the cat tracks that had appeared in bright red stripes across my chest along with the dog bite that I got when I kicked the dog as I was on the way down and stinking of warm beer that had more or less liberally coated everything in a five foot area around where I was sitting. If it doesn't make sense to you now you might well understand why I made him repeat everything about six times before I gently ushered him to the door and said I'd see him tomorrow and we'd get it all clear and then firmly but gently closed the door so as not to further damage his nose which seemed to be acquiring a permanent crosshatch from the screen. At that point I should have just quietly left town in the night but I was young and still of the opinion that people ought to be given a chance to explain themselves before you beat some good sense into them and after all, I'd already seen some of John's weird stuff work and it just might be that he knew something I didn't and that it would work again! Even if I didn't understand it!

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised the next morning when the screen slammed and John seated himself at the table and proceeded to help himself to my breakfast, all the while digging for bits of paper and waving his arms and talking a blue streak about his new machine and how it was out in the truck and I just had to go see it work right now. I just kind of settled down out of spray range and drank a cup of coffee which was all I managed to salvage of the whirlwind that had enveloped my bacon, eggs and toast and reconciled myself to a day that might prove to, at least, be interesting if it didn't kill the both of us first.

John's inventions had the tendency to fail somewhat disastrously at least as often as they worked or didn't work, sort of like the time he converted his ratty old pickup to remote start and use his newly invented super fuel. We all could attest to the efficiency of the remote start, but only the fact that we insisted in watching from behind a wall saved us from the results of the super fuel! I don't think we found more than about ten pounds of that pickup truck. But we all heard it start up and run normally for about ten seconds before it developed a strange moan which rose to a howl and ended in a tortured shriek and a sort of flash and silent boom, you know the kind you feel but don't hear? John called it an implosion. Sort of an explosion in reverse. Whatever it was, it didn't leave much of the truck behind and it kind of cleaned all the loose litter out of the parking lot for about a hundred yards in all directions as well. We were all real happy about being behind the wall and being whole and well except for Charlie. Seems as though he lost his cap to the implosion and the way he carried on about it you'd think he'd rather have lost his house, wife and dog instead. It's peculiar what things some people think are valuable.

But I digress so I'll get back to the story at hand, wherein John was eating my breakfast and a few things that happened to fall out of his pocket into the plate including bits of paper and pocket fluff.

After John had finished all the real food and mopped the plate with a bit of paper and ate that too it was time to go on and either die or be astonished at the new machine which as far as I could determine from the monologue, delivered between and during bites of whatever got in the way of John's fork, had sort of sprung up full blown during the night and jumped into the back of John's newest truck all ready for the morning's adventure.

John's trucks were at least as odd as the rest of his world and his latest was certainly no exception. Whatever it had started life as, was at least as indeterminate as what color it had once been, but whatever it had been it was huge and ugly. I suspected it might have once been an airport emergency recovery vehicle but after John got through with it nobody would ever have been able to know for sure. I do remember one past truck of his that had what looked like Russian information plates on the dash and armor plate and what I always thought looked suspiciously like gun mounts on the cab roof and in the bed.

Nobody ever found out where he got these things, of which this one was certainly no exception, and mounted on the back frame was one of the strangest machines I've ever seen.

It was sort of a combination crane/drilling rig/saw mill all buried in hydraulic lines and electrical cable and things that can only be called "stuff" and in fact I was fairly sure that I saw a 1957 Studebaker grill in there amongst the other bits and pieces.

Right then I knew it was going to be an interesting day!

We climbed into what could politely be called the cab of this beast and John started the engines. Engines, as in more than one. The racket was ear shattering until just though it was normal John reached over and flipped a switch on an odd looking gadget bolted to the dash,that was all loose wires and what looked like kitchen parts and the racket just stopped! Just like turning off the radio, which I was to find out didn't work when the gadget was running and you couldn't hear if the gadget was off.

The radio didn't do much good when it did work anyway. All it would pick up was strange music that sounded a little like Arabian and language broadcasts that could have been Swahili for all I could understand of them. Later that summer when THE TRUCK as we referred to it wasn't running I was playing with the radio and got some REAL strange stuff out of it including some kid with a Citizens Band walkie-talkie radio that was demanding the immediate surrender of every major government on earth! Those were the exact manner in which that kid phrased it too! "All the governments on EARTH!" I thought it was kind of funny because after all there weren't any governments anywhere else, were there? But John just made a note of the channel and said he'd take care of it later. I never did get the hang of that radio so I eventually brought along a little portable I'd bought at K-Mart. That one in the truck had what looked like a computer keyboard hooked to it and a funny little antenna mounted on the cab that sort of swiveled around when John used his one finger pecking method to adjust the stations. He kept a list of stations on bits and pieces of paper that flew around the cab like a whirlwind if you ever opened the windows while driving until I gathered them all up and stuck them in the dash compartment with the beer.

That dash compartment was another strange bit I never understood. I guess he'd been at it just like everything else on THE TRUCK because when you reached over and opened it this cloud of frost smoke would roll out and the temperature in the cab would go right down. Once when he wasn't around I looked under the dash to see if I could locate the cooling coil and there wasn't so much as a wire to that dash box. I sort of casually asked where the cooling coil was later and wasn't the least bit surprised when he said, "Oh it's at home.".

That was about the way these things always ended up in conversations with John. I don't think he ever patented anything because it was all on little bits of paper somewhere and none of those little bits of paper made any sense to anybody in the world except John. He gave me one to show me how the radio worked once and it looked like a page ripped out of an advanced physics text except that it was written in smudged crayon and had little dried up bits of food and grease stains on it.

After a shuttle launch once, I asked if he thought man would ever go to the outer planets and he just said, "Nahh, there ain't nothin' there anyhow, least wasn't when I was there.". I never wanted to know if he was joking. There was something in the way he said it that made me tell myself, "Don't ask!". He was that way about explaining stuff. You were better off not asking and maybe better off not knowing.

So, to resume, there we were in THE TRUCK on our way out to an oilfield with this monster machine on the back when it occurred to me that there WEREN'T any oil wells around close and the top speed on THE TRUCK was about 40 miles per hour. It was going to take forever to get anywhere near an oil well driving that monster but it didn't seem to bother John at all because he just turned into town and at the first street took a left and downshifted what I thought was THE TRUCK but must have been the world around us instead because I'd lived around that town for most of my life and I'd never seen that oilfield before.

I sat up straight and looked all around and said," Where the hell is THIS ????". After all the time I'd been around John it still surprised me when he said, "Kansas.", just like that! "Kansas." Didn't even act surprised when he said it. I wasn't sure it was Kansas but it sure wasn't anywhere around home because I knew that town and there weren't any oil wells there!

John stopped the truck and while I was out looking around at the oil rigs and smelling the tang of sulfur and rotten eggs in the air, he was backing up THE TRUCK to a capped wellhead and getting out to mess with that strange looking piece of gear on the rear deck. Pretty soon still another engine started up with that odd moan that was a trademark of John's motors and all that crane, drill rig and saw mill went to work and just hooked on to the hole and yanked it right up out of the earth.

Yep, I said "the hole". I still don't believe it and I stood there and watched it happen! First the crane dropped into place and positioned a big
gadget with electrical cables and hydraulic hoses and what I described as "Stuff" all over it next then it made sort of a hissing noise and a whine like a dental drill and then it just retracted and brought the hole with it as it came up with the saw kicking in every so often to cut it into sections. Like bringing up a cylinder of clear glass. John was on the back pushing levers and buttons and making all this stuff work just like it was all a very common occurrence and there was absolutely nothing at all peculiar about pulling up a hole. Didn't even leave a dent in the ground where it had been.

I walked over and touched one of the sections and it was hard like glass but solid all the way through. It was exactly like a solid cylinder of air except that it had little bits of dirt and stuff stuck to it here and there. I had to sit down for a while. I mean it's not like I was getting old or anything but all of a sudden I just wanted to sit down there in the sand of that oil field and stare at that impossible pile of holes laying there on the soil of Kansas or wherever we were until the world made sense again. I was pretty sure right then that the world might not *ever* make sense again and I was absolutely sure that nobody was going to believe me when I told them what I had just seen.

I guess I must have just sat there staring at those solidified holes for quite a while because I don't remember hearing the machinery shut down or what happened for a while after that until John came over wearing that silly grin and wiping the grease off his hands with a piece of paper out of his hip pocket. I don't really remember much about loading the holes on the truck, except that they were astonishingly light, or the ride home until we turned a corner and were back in town again and John was up shifting the truck and heading back to my place. He dropped me off at my place and drove off in that eerie silence that always surrounded THE TRUCK and I went straight in and got real drunk!

I didn't even want to think about that machine for a while after that but about two days later there was John banging on the door and getting in the kitchen and tossing around pots and pans and making smells that were perfectly normal for breakfast but really revolting for a man with a serious hangover and generally creating havoc with my poor, throbbing head. After making sure I was certain I was dying and sincerely wished it would hurry up and happen he sat down at the table with this enormous plate of food and proceeded to eat and talk and slosh and spray coffee all over the place just to further torment me. After what, I was certain, was a little under a hundred years in Hell he finished mopping his plate, pulled what looked like a flashlight out of his pocket, shined it in my eyes causing a startling explosion of pain in my head and said, "Well are you ready to go to work?". I whimpered something about letting me die in peace and just kept my eyes shut but after he waved a cup of coffee under my nose and I realized how good it smelled I opened my eyes and realized my hangover was gone. The hangover was not only gone but I was ravenous and felt better than I remembered I could feel. I grabbed the cup of coffee and the nearest candy bar and through a mouthful of chocolate and coffee I managed to ask about the flashlight and John just grinned that silly grin and said, "Come on, you can drink your coffee on the way" and with just enough time to grab another candy bar we were off to what we thought would be the greatest adventure of our lives.

In the silence of the truck cab as we traveled out to the oilfield John explained all about his ideas of how we would pull up these unused holes, cut them up into short sections, thread them and then sell them to farmers or people who needed fences and all about a special installation tool he'd invented so that everywhere they needed a hole they would just screw one of the pre-threaded holes into the ground and depolarize it and there the hole would be ready to use.

I didn't understand even half of that discussion but I was willing to take a look and see how it worked and then take it from there. After all, I hadn't believed that he could yank a hole out of the ground either until I saw him do it.

The trip out to the oilfield didn't take long and we were on our way back before the day was half over with a truck full of those strange cylinders. Once back at John's shop, which was a sort of tumble down old barn that leaned a little out of plumb, we pulled the tarps off of another machine that looked like a double motorized band saw with an over sized pipe threader on one end and got ready for the first of the sections of hole to be sawn into lengthwise quarters and threaded. By then I was a lot less skeptical and a lot more interested in what would happen next. Curiosity had a stranglehold on my interest and nothing had blown up and killed us so far so I figured that we had nothing to lose if he was wrong and we might even make some money if he was right.

We set the first section on the guides of the machine,John turned it on and I pushed it through. Now, when I said that this machine was like a double band saw what I meant was that it had two blades set at right angles to each other that neatly quartered the section before spinning them in front of a tool that turned them round like a lathe might do and then fed them into the threader, neatly cutting threads on them like a pipe. We were jumping around like kids and whooping and hollering and banging each other on the back and pouring beer on each other's heads just generally making a hell of a racket celebrating until we just fell down and laughed until we couldn't move or breathe because we were so excited.

IT WORKED! I mean the damn thing not only worked but it worked real well and we were going to be rich !!!!!! Rich beyond our dreams of wealth. This machine could turn out threaded holes ready for installation by the thousands just as fast as we could shove the sections through it.

About then I thought to ask about the installation tool that went with the sections and there we hit the first hitch.

There was only one installation tool.

John only had enough parts to build one and he hadn't been able to make anything else work. We were excited by then though and I decided it didn't make any difference really. After I got a good look at the tractor mounted rig that he'd built and discovered that it could install a hole about every 10 seconds or so, I figured that what with moving the tractor and clearing the fence line we could still do about a half mile of holes a day. Well maybe not a half mile but even so we could make a bunch of money. People would buy the holes, pay for the installation and we could be in and out and off to the next job without even breaking a good sweat. Or at least that's what we thought. There were a few bits that still needed to be worked out but we'd already gotten this far hadn't we ?

Well....some of the problems weren't as easy to deal with as we'd hoped. Like the torsion problem.

Torsion is what happens when you twist something in opposite directions at both ends at the same time. It's also the force that drives threaded objects into another object unless you happen to be like old Charlie back at the shop. I've seen Charlie set more than one screw with a hammer. But that's impact and not torsion and it's not supposed to be done that way.

What happened with the torsion problem was that as we screwed the holes into the ground they'd wind up like a spring and then after you'd depolarized them and dropped in a post all that torsion would pop that post right back out again. John reset the installation tool to drive harder and the poles just flew a little higher when they popped back out of the hole. At that point we'd both had a few to many beers and it was getting dark so I went on home and John went on in to see if he could doodle out an answer and in fact when I got back over there the problems were solved and everything was working perfectly.

Later we found out we had a chip problem. When we were turning the quarter sections round we got chips from the lathe part of the machine that would pile up and get in the way while we were working. After we'd cleaned up a big pile of these chips once we got to thinking that if these chips were all parts of a hole and a hole is a place where nothing is then we ought to be able to just depolarize these chips and not have a clean up problem. Sounds good doesn't it ?

Didn't work out so well though. John aimed the depolarizer at the chip pile and damn near sucked up the whole shop in an implosion created when everything nearby took a running leap at the spot where nothing suddenly appeared and left an empty place where it had been. After that we sanded the holes round instead and the smaller bits just sort of evaporated after a little while. It was harder on our clothes though. We'd think we were clean and had all the dust off us and the next day we'd be wearing rags where all the hole dust had gotten worked into the creases and then evaporated. When there wasn't enough left of our clothes to wear them we'd just use them for rags until they disappeared. We started using a vacuum cleaner after a while and that worked out pretty well. We never had to empty the bag at all. I guess that's why it was called a vacuum cleaner. There's nothing like the right tool for the right job!

After we had everything working just right I put on a good set of clothes and went out selling holes. I learned real quick not to try to explain all about the hole puller, the threader, the saws and such we used. I tried that a couple of times and ended up looking what you might call a little foolish or like what one not too prospective client called, "a gol-danged lunatic!" all the while waving a large bore shotgun and running after my pickup as I drove away in a hurry. But all in all I did all right after I got the pitch right and especially after we finished a couple of jobs real quick and the word got around.

One of the advantages of our system was that because we didn't actually remove any soil when we set a hole, after we dropped in a post and depolarized the hole all the displaced earth shoved back in real tight and the poles were as solid as if they were set in concrete. It may seem like nonsense but it worked real well. It was fast and easy too unless we got into one of those bad jobs where we had to clear a lot of brush and trash before we could get the tractor in.

While I was out doing either sales or installation John was back at the shop turning out post holes and building up a stock for the next job. Having to leave him alone while I wasn't at the shop was to prove to be our undoing.

John liked to tinker with things and he got bored easily as well.

If I'd paid a little more attention we might have gotten rich. In the interest of keeping him healthy I'd gotten a soda machine and put it right next to the machines so he wouldn't be drinking the lubricants and a refrigerator so he wouldn't be tempted to nibble on a hole chip. He did that once and afterwards ate 6 burgers, 10 orders of fries, 5 orders of onion rings, 3 milk shakes each of two flavors and was just getting started good when I ran out of money and had to take him home, open the refrigerator and stand back. Fortunately he finished up before the mold in the back corner of the bottom shelf started to look good. Fortunately, because that was all that was left in there. I guess you could say that he had a hole in his stomach.

Back on the subject of paying attention, If I had been we might have gotten rich. I'll admit that we couldn't have gone on calling ourselves the W.B.T.Y.M. post hole company because sooner or later somebody might have tripped to the notion that it stood for WHAM! BAM! THANK YOU MAM! but that was just a minor problem because we were so fast. The real problem was in John's constant desire to tinker with things. I should have paid attention the first time I noticed the that refrigerator was unplugged. I didn't think much of it until I opened the door and the little light came on. After that I closed the door and stepped back to see if there was another cord I hadn't seen. There wasn't. I still didn't think much about it because I had a lot of contracts and such on my mind and I'd gotten used to things like that around John. But I should have because it was a sign that John was bored and was messing with stuff that already worked just fine. But I missed the signs that were as plain as they could have been and just went on loading THE TRUCK for the next and what turned out to be last job we were to do.

The job went fine and every bit as fast as I'd hoped as I'd gotten adept at going for the jobs that had a lot of straight runs on clear level ground. No Fuss, No Muss, and NO forest to clear to get to the fence line. The trouble was when I got back and found John up on the shop roof singing happily, working on some new machine and extremely drunk! I was real surprised because he never drank when he was alone and even then not much but there he was, drunker than anyone I'd ever known could get, and very happily working on the roof. And when I yelled up at him he gave me a great big silly grin, yelled right back that he'd be right down and stepped off the edge of the barn roof as pretty as you please! I flinched real hard and held my breath and waited for him to hit the ground and waited and waited and finally had to take a breath as he floated gently to earth with that silly grin of his all over his face. I had a premonition that this wasn't to be the last surprise of the day and I was right too.

He'd gotten bored with post holes and been modifying things and inventing new things and messing with things that already worked just fine. Starting with the soda machine. It still wasn't plugged in.

It was working however. It had that sort of hum that said that John had been playing with it. I thought about that while I was getting a soft drink out of it. I thought about it a lot more as I took a sip of the first 150 proof Coca Cola I'd ever had straight out of an unopened can. After thinking about it later I figured out that whatever he'd done to the coke machine changed the soft drinks along with it. The Cokes were 150 proof but the real jewels of the collection were the creme sodas. As smooth and rich as fine liqueur and as potent as snake venom and that information solved the question of how John got so drunk. That much at least was an accident. One of the unpredictable side effects of John's tinkering. Like the torsion effect of the holes had been. The saddest side effect of all though was what he had done to the Marvelous Post Hole Machine. He'd gotten bored with always making right-handed threads on the holes so he'd thrown the threader into reverse and threaded everything we had in stock LEFT-handed. After he was a little more sober I explained gently that I couldn't use left-handed holes because I didn't have a reverse on the installation tool. He smiled his trademark silly grin and said, " Oh that's all right. I can fix that!" and I went on home thinking that everything would be fine in the morning except that it wasn't.

I should have locked the soda machine before I left.

John was still sleeping like a baby when I got out to the shop the next morning and there were coke cans sort of scattered around the Marvelous Post Hole Machine. I felt a cold chill run up my spine and a sinking feeling at the pit of my stomach and I knew the dream was over.

Sure enough, instead of installing a reverse on the installation machine, he'd re-threaded all the holes right handed over the top of the left hand threads. I just sat there looking at the wreckage because there was nothing else I could do. Running the threader backwards over the previous threads had totally ruined the threading dies. They looked like they'd been bored smooth with a large diameter drill and as they were John's creation along with the rest of the machine I knew in my heart that I'd never find another set that would work on the polarized hole material. If that had been all I would only have sat and cried, but that wasn't all. With the typical thoroughness that John always had he'd tested the re-threaded holes on the installation machine.

As best as I was able to reconstruct from the stuff laying around and the condition it was in I put it back together like this, drawing on my experience to help. When he set the installer to drive and started the hole into the ground several things happened all at once. The torsion created by the left threads fighting the right threads as the installer began to drive downward caused the hole to wind up in both directions at once, combined with the compression of the downward drive the results were inevitable. Forced into the ground by the installer and wound up like an extremely powerful spring, something had to give and that something was the gearbox on the installer.

Over wound and over compressed, that hole had come out of the ground like a Minuteman Missile from an underground silo, stripping every gear in the gearbox and bending the drive bar like a paperclip. The machinery was completely wrecked and like the dies on the threader totally irreplaceable.

We were out of business.

The soda machine was empty as well. I just sat there in silence and finally when it started to get dusk I went on home after making sure that John was still breathing, comfortable and asleep and before I left I covered him up with a soft old blanket that I knew was his favorite. He looked so happy asleep. He was sucking his thumb like a child and sort of smiling around it. I just didn't have the heart to be mad at him. I don't guess anyone ever did.

When I went on out to his place about two days later there wasn't anybody home. Just a note pinned to the door saying he was sorry that he broke the machine and he hoped I wasn't mad. He had a job offer from some shop in Texas that did space research and so he was going down there for a while. As there wasn't much left behind but machinery that wouldn't ever be repairable and bits and pieces of "stuff" that wasn't identifiable as anything I just sat on the porch for a while and watched the birds and listened to the silence. After walking around for a while looking the place over and remembering the summer I went on home, taking with me the last case of creme soda that John had left as a going away "I'm sorry" gift.

I never did see him again but I hope he's happy wherever he is and if you ever accidentally run across anybody that knows him, tell them to tell him I'm not mad at him, never was. It was my fault, I should have been paying more attention.

Anyway, my friends, that's why I never got rich and what happened during the summer of the Marvelous Post Hole Machine. It was fun while it lasted.