After I graduated from Kokomo High School, I needed a job for the summer before enrolling at Wheaton College. My next door neighbor, Jim Lemasters, who later married my sister, Lisa, told me I could get on the trash truck crew for the City of Kokomo. I applied and was promptly employed in what turned out to be the best job of my life. I loved that job.
It I with no small amount of pride that I can say I became a “packer man.” At the time a packer man would ride standing on a steel footing welded to the back end of a big packer truck. I would hang on to a small steel railing, also welded to the truck. Each packer truck had a driver and two packer men.
The job consisted of riding all over Kokomo standing on the back of the truck and going down prescribed alleys and dumping the contents of 55 gallon barrels into the back of the packer truck. This is how I got to be familiar with the various neighborhoods of my city. I might not have known what the front of the houses looked like, but I could identify neighborhoods and in some cases particular residences by their trash and garbage. The smells helped, too, particularly if they were raising farm animals in town. Nothing like the smell of warm manure emanating from a barrel on a hot July morning.
One of the cool things about being a packer man was that you could keep anything you found in the trash. I know some people who furnished their first houses/apartments with relics found in the trash (Lisa, your secret is safe with me.)
One day Jim and I found the remains of a cow in a barrel. It was quite dead, being covered with maggots. The two femurs were sticking out of the barrel, so Jim and I pulled them out, took them home and cleaned them up. We drilled holes through the sockets and attached hand straps. Why would we do this? Well, our driver, Wayne, had narcolepsy. He would drive up to a couple of barrels and promptly fall asleep, repeatedly. We got tired of yelling at him to wake up, so we used the bones to bang on the side of the truck to keep him awake. Those bones made a terrible racket on the steel sides of the truck. Combine that noise with these two demented souls yelling at Wayne to wake up and the problem was solved. I hate to think of what the good citizens of Kokomo thought about us. They probably thought it was a government job program of some sort to try to employ the psychotic or dangerously mentally ill.
At any rate, one day Jim and I found a starter pistol and some blank ammunition in the trash. We loaded the pistol and fired it, scaring Wayne half to death. I took it home with me.
Bear with me for a moment while I digress. You need to know that each packer truck was assigned a route each day. If you had run your route, you could clock out, go home, and be paid for eight hours. Is that a great system or not? The drivers all wanted Jim and me on their trucks, because Jim and I literally ran the alleys. That truck never stopped rolling as we would throw the barrels into the back of the truck, empty them and run to the next barrel. Jim and I never worked past 11:30 am. We were always done way early. We would clock out and go home.
It is interesting to note that a lot of guys never told their wives or significant others that they got done early. All the wives knew was their hardworking husbands came home every day at 4:30, their clothes covered with remnants of trash. Little did they know that there where showers and lockers at the city garage. Many of the guys kept nice clothes in these lockers for act ivies engaged in between 1 pm and 4 pm. They would return to the city building, take off the nice clothes and put on their work clothes and go home. Where were they for 4 hours every afternoon? Well, what happens at the city garage stays at the city garage.
The problem was that my parents were irritated that I didn’t have to actually work eight hours for eight hours pay. Of course, they never saw me hauling butt down the alleys rolling barrels at a dead run, either. Consequently, my blessed mother decided that when I got home everyday at noon, there should be other jobs for me to do to finish out a “real” work day.
One day I came home and she decided that I needed to paint Mom and Dad’s bedroom. Like the dutiful son, I did it. Their bedroom had picture railing running around the room about one inch from the ceiling. When I told her I was done, she looked up at the railing and said I missed a bunch of places. I couldn’t see where I had missed any places, but I painted it again. I told her I was done. She told me in no uncertain words that I had done a terrible job and I had best do it over. I did. The third time I reported the job to be complete, she said I was worthless, couldn’t do anything right and I would never amount to anything. (How did she know back then?)
I had had enough at that point and told her that no matter how much paint I put on the space between the top of the chair rail and the ceiling, I couldn’t paint out the shadow. She told me I was a smart aleck and that I could just wait until Dad got home and he would take care of my insolent self.
I went over to Jim’s house and told him what had happened. I then got a devious idea. I got the starter pistol and loaded it. Jim and I went back to my house. I rang the back door doorbell and waited for mom to answer it. She did, commenting as to why I would ring the doorbell to my own house. At that point I started yelling about how she was crazy, was impossible to please and I had had enough of her. Whereupon, I whipped out the starter pistol, pointed it at her from a range of three feet and fired that sucker, aiming directly at her midsection.
The look on her face was priceless. She felt around for a bullet hole and staggered backward, looking for blood. I thought about reloading, but didn’t. Jim was laughing so hard he was almost in convulsions. Finally, she figured out that she had not been shot. I was howling with glee. She was furious and incredulous, all at the same time. I knew I was in big trouble when Dad got home, but, quite frankly, I did not give a hoot.
She recovered her composure and said, “I am calling your father right now.” She did. Dad zoomed home. I was out in the garage when dad talked to mom. Looking back, I wish I had heard that conversation. I am sure it went something like this:
Mom: Owen, your son shot me.
Dad: He what?
M: You heard me. Your son shot me.
D: Well, are you hurt?
M: No. But you have got to do something about this.
D: All right, Mary Ann, I will talk to him.
Dad rarely got upset about anything. I am sure he was puzzled about what had happened. Out to the garage came Dad.
“Did you really shoot your mom?”
I replied in the affirmative. Dad asked if I had a reason. I told him I had painted the chair railing three times and I could not paint out the shadow. An odd look came over Dad’s face.
Dad left the garage, saying he would be back. Upstairs he went and inspected the paint job. I could hear him ask Mom to show him where I missed with the paint. She showed him. He then explained that what she was complaining about was a shadow, not a missed spot. She was not amused and asked him what he was going to do about his budding assassin son. Dad said he would take care of it. Back to the garage he came.
He asked to see the starter pistol and ammunition. He asked for a demonstration of how to load it. I complied. After a few moments contemplating the starter pistol, he asked how loud it was. I told him it was pretty loud…probably louder when fired at you from 3 feet away.
He then told me it was not nice to shoot your mother and that I should not do this again. I told him I wouldn’t. He gave me the starter pistol, which I still have, and told me that I needed to lay low for awhile until he could get Mom calmed down. I told him I understood. He got up and left. He almost made it to the backdoor before he exploded with laughter. I knew then that I was out of trouble.
My dad was so cool.
So there you have it. The legend of the day that Mike shot his mom. As they say on TV, do not try this at home.