I’ll tell you a secret you know already, a secret my Grandpa Ralph told me. We’ll defy the aging process, you and I. We’ll dodge the reaper and juke death. Like Ralph, we’ll sidestep old age, two-step through life.
Only a prankster would saunter into this world on Halloween and slip out on April Fools’ Day.
He worked for the railroad but talked like he never did any labor, simply played with trains. After Ralph lost his middle digit under a boxcar’s wheel, my grandmother altered all his left-hand gloves and Grandpa said he’d truly given his employer “the finger.”
As far as I knew, it was the only bad thing ever happened to him unless you count his first wife, the one who “cyanided on me right in the kitchen.” So, two bad things, three if you count his April Fool’s prank.
But he never grew old.
When the VW Bug came to America, Grandpa’s supervisor bought a black one. “Betty gets thirty-two miles per gallon,” bragged the boss.
I think Grandpa’s Olds got nine, the number of his fingers.
“Black Betty’s up to thirty-four miles per gallon. Allergic to gas. Passes more filling stations than a minister passes brothels.” Want to bet he really said “whore houses?”
Grandpa and his cronies would open the Bug’s gas cap and pour in a pint or two of Ethyl, metaphorical “gasoline on the fire.”
“Forty-two miles per gallon,” said the boss one week. “Fifty-one miles per gallon,” the next. “These Germans are amazing.”
More extra gas into the tank.
“I am getting ninety miles per gallon!”
“It must be time for Miss Betty’s first oil change?” Ralph asked.
And, then, the siphoning began.
“I don’t understand what’s happened,” said the boss. “I took her in for service and the mileage went to heck.” He didn’t say “heck.”
Baffled, he took her in again but the factory-certified technicians found nothing wrong. In the boss’s words, “Bait and switch. They get your expectations up. These Germans are a bunch of swindling, conniving …” Can you lend a brother two or three four-letter words for what he really said?
The boss burned umpteen tanks of fuel driving between the railroad and the dealer, thirsty Black Betty swilling gas at six miles per gallon before Grandpa & Company bored of the charade.
If you performed in the brass band on-stage at Elitch Gardens in the early 1960s, you know what Ralph and his conspirators did next. You know when a gaggle of railroad yahoos sits in the front row of the pavilion sucking lemons by the brown paper-bagful, making you salivate and pucker while they nurse their jaundiced citrus, you cannot humanly play your trombone when your lips mummify like those of a wizened dowager who’s pawned her dentures for egg money.
It was a big bag of tricks Grandpa’s train men toted.
After abducting every “Home for Sale” sign of every color from every front yard in a four-mile radius, smuggling them downtown and transplanting them atop City Hall’s front lawn, they “sold” my home town of Englewood hundreds of times over.
There was the miracle they worked in masonry, bricking-over the windows of the Sambo’s restaurant that even in that era should have known better.
Juvenile stuff: Vaseline on doorknobs; Saran wrap on toilet seats; horse hairs embedded in the tobacco of Lucky Strikes and Kools, regulars and menthols alike; ringing doorbells of rivals’ houses, their doorsteps festooned with flaming bags of … you know.
Encore Ralph-and-railroad antics; hijinks and practical jokes recounted across dinner tables in whispers my immature ears could not yet capture.
But I got Grandpa’s message and you know it, too and it stays secret only because we forget.
Play at work; work at play. Inspire youngsters of every age. Stay ever youthful and maximize the mileage of your years.
If you can rig it, die on April Fools’ Day.
Sean Jones says: “When I read other authors’ bios, they talk about their cats. I don’t have any and I wonder if other authors really do. After all, they’re creators of fiction. Let me tell you about my cats. Jasmine is black Siamese with green eyes and she loves to scamper on the back porch and catch moths in the moonlight. Thor is a tabby who sleeps all day, ironically through thunderstorms. Then, there’s Penelope, a Persian …”