Even a purebred packrat would have felt claustrophobic peering into the gargantuan storage shed cum garage sale paradise that greeted Hooter and Cousin Charlie. This was the kind of haphazard but organized clutter that would have to be taken apart the same way it was assembled: one piece and one layer at a time; something neither one of the boys had signed on for.
“You know Lucille Brownlee up at church?” Aunt Pinkie had queried during a recent noontime. “She has a nephew and his family over to Altus, from back East originally. They don't know many folks and they're needing a hand moving a few things, just some of the larger, heavier furniture they told her.”
Hooter couldn't vouch for Charlie, but his own heart slid below the table. Like a clairvoyant cavalryman heading into Little Big Horn, he knew what was coming next and was just as happy about it.
“Anyway, I told Lucille you boys were planning to head over toward Electra to look at some bulls, anyway, so you could just slip on up to Altus and give them a hand. She said that would mean the world to them, especially if you had a pickup along,” continued Pinkie.
“I'll bet they would be happy to see a full-sized pickup,” groused Hooter. “Ten to one, Mr. Nephew drives some Japanese pop can, brags to everybody about the mileage he gets and how he's taking care of the environment, and writes his congressmen about those horrible Detroit gas guzzlers. Come moving day, though, ain't it swell to have more than a glorified trunk.”
Of course, Hooter and Charlie knew all they could do was grouse. Once two family matriarchs sealed a deal, it was done, no matter how much or how little their offspring liked the particular idea.
This End Up
The nephew, William (not Bill) and his wife Stacia seemed nice enough and more than a little grateful for the help, if not aware of the job they really had in front of them.
William (not Bill) was some sort of gas and oil consultant who had moved to town a year earlier. When it was obvious he'd be staying longer than anticipated, he and Stacia built a house on the outskirts of town for themselves and their only child, a sullen and soon-to-be teenage boy named Benjamin (not Ben, Benny or Benjie).
Hooter and Charlie received this explanation as William (not Bill) slowly and meticulously opened all five padlocks securing the door hiding the nightmare of junk inside.
“There are just a couple of beds, a sofa and a table in the house,” explained William (not Bill) happily and a few of the larger items in here.”
Hooter looked at Charlie who was looking helplessly at the chaos. He wanted to explain to William (not Bill) that Halsey's Second Fleet couldn't make a dent in this rat's nest by sundown. Instead, he grinned. “Be happy to help with what we can. We did tell our Aunt Pinkie to mention to your aunt Lucille that we have an appointment this afternoon and need to get on the road from here by noon.”
William (not Bill) saw the look of doubt. “Worry not gentlemen. It's not as foreboding as it looks. Besides, reinforcements arrived from Oklahoma City last night.”
The momentary glimmer of hope the boys allowed themselves was snuffed out immediately as a foreign and expensive looking two-seat sports car squealed to a stop.
“Here they are now,” beamed William (not Bill). “A couple of old college chums only too happy to give us a hand.”
Two men impeccably dressed in color coordinated designer shorts, No Fear t-shirts and work boots—all looking like they were fresh out of the box—emerged from the car with broad grins and waves.
“Hooter, Charlie,” said William (not Bill), “Meet two of my oldest and dearest friends, Thurston Pinbush the fourth and Andre Middlebrook Junior. We're all engineers by training, but don't hold our slide rules against us.” To which the college trio laughed as if someone had told a joke.
After the expected pleasantries, when the old college friends seemed more concerned about reliving old times than moving, Hooter announced, “Well, daylight's burnin'. Let's dive in shall we?”
“Indeed,” said William (not Bill). “I'll go get the equipment.”
“Equipment?” whispered Charlie to his cousin. “This should be interesting.”
While the pairs of strangers waited for their host to return, Hooter and Charlie watched in bewilderment as Thurston and Andre applied sun tan oil, helped each other make do-rags out of bandannas, pulled on some sort of clumsy looking gray leather gloves that came halfway up to the elbow, then strapped on belts at least six inches wide, apparently for back support.
“You old cad,” laughed either Thurston or Andre to the other one, “You look exactly like some gang member.”
“Yeah, the yuppie Hells Angels,” whispered Hooter, rolling his eyes at Charlie.
“Would you gentlemen like a pair of gloves?” said either Thurston or Andre.
“Nope, but thanks anyway, Andy, we're fine.”
“I'm Thurston, he's Andre,” said Thurston coldly.
“Nope, but thanks anyway, Thirsty, we're fine,” said Hooter with a wink and just as much ice.
Before the exchange could continue, William (not Bill) rolled to a honking stop across the street. Hooked to his Mercedes SUV was a sparkling new flatbed trailer, way too big for the vehicle. Loaded on the flat bed was a sparkling new skid steer that made Charlie and Hooter turn green, along with about five different sized dollies, also sparkling new.
“No one said moving had to be hard work,” laughed William (not Bill). “I told Stacia we'd be needing a few tools for the new property and surely they'd be a help with the move, too.”
“I say, old man, you've outdone yourself,” said Andy or Thirsty.
“You are a corker,” said the other one.
You Break It, You Leave It
“If you don't mind my asking, what is your game plan for the skid steer?” wondered Hooter.
William (not Bill) looked puzzled as if searching for a word in a foreign language he should know. “Oh, you mean the all-wheel utility tractor. Well, that bucket thing on the front end can certainly carry more than any of us. We simply load things into it, drive it over to the trailer and your pickup and unload it.”
“But…” started Charlie. Hooter stopped him. He saw a glimmer of hope.
“That's a swell idea, William. You are a thinker. Back that bad boy on in here and let's get started.”
William (not Bill) looked half proud and half scared. “You understand, I'm relatively new to this. I haven't actually had occasion to back the trailer yet. Perhaps we could just unload it where it is and drive back and forth across the street.”
“Too much traffic,” said Hooter. “No problem, Charlie here has been backing wagons up before he could reach the pedals, where you want it? I bet by the time we have the first piece of furniture out here, he's backed in and unloaded.”
And he was. Hooter watched in disgust as the three college chums spent a good 10 minutes lifting a mattress on to some wheeled contraption so they could roll it out the door. Before they could figure out how to wheel the mattress up on to the trailer, Charlie and Hooter had already returned, three times: with the box springs, a sofa and a loveseat. Along the way Hooter shared his plan.
“I figure when you're in quicksand, you can either fight it and just keep sinking or you can catch a branch and bail out. We could stay all week and they'll still be trying to engineer their way around doing a little work. We said we'd help them load the furniture. That's what I aim to do. And, that's all I aim to do.”
Hooter and Charlie loaded the flatbed while the Yuppie Angels returned for another wheeled load that included two dining room chairs. It was closing in on noon.
“I reckon that's all the heavy stuff in the house,” said Hooter. “William, why don't you fire up that all-wheel utility tractor of yours so we can start on the storage shed.”
Charlie elbowed him hard in the ribs. Hooter just grinned.
“I have to admit I haven't actually driven it yet,” said William (not Bill).
“No step for a stepper,” said Hooter. “Come here and I'll show you. You'll have it down in no time.”
“Yes, William. You figure out how to run the machinery. While you do that I must use your facilities. I seem to have a rash beginning on my arms,” said Thirsty or Andy.
“Sweat will do that sometimes,” said Charlie.
Oblivious, the other Thirsty or Andy chimed in, “And, I'm sure something has bitten me. Thurston, can you see something on my neck here…”
Hooter clambered aboard the skid steer and flipped the switch. “See these two handles here, William? They make you go and turn. Rule number one: if you get in a bind, just let go of the handles and you'll stop. Got it? Now, these two pedals, they run the bucket, both up and down, and back and forth.” Hooter demonstrated. “See how easy. And, this handle over here is your throttle. You push it forward and the engine goes faster. Pull it back and it slows down. Now you give it a try.”
William (not Bill) traded places with Hooter. He cautiously shoved both handles ahead and lurched forward. “It jumps right out there, doesn't it?” He jerked them backwards and the loader jumped back. “But how do I turn?”
Hooter explained the joys of independent drive trains and how to push and pull at the same time to go the desired direction. By the time Andy and Thirsty emerged from the air-conditioned house, iced tea in hand, William (not Bill) was happily driving back and forth, jerkily, across the front lawn. He even thought he had the bucket figured out, though not on the fly.
“I say William, you're a regular heavy equipment operator. Better not let the boys at the club see you out here like this,” kidded Andy or Thirsty. “Give us a ride.”
Hooter caught Charlie's attention and jerked his head toward the pickup. “Yep, the family that loads together stays together,” said Hooter. None of the crew was paying attention though. They were enamored with the new paint and the roar of the engine.
Hooter waited just long enough to watch William (not Bill) buck both his friends off the bucket, narrowly missing Andy or Thirsty before careening in a straight line, then a tight left circle, bucket down, scalping a circle in the front lawn, screaming at the top of his lungs for help.
“Look at it this way,” Hooter told Charlie. “We did all we could.”