Winter in Kaboogie Falls

by Jess Terr

It was awfully cold in Kaboogie Falls that night. It might have been a record, but the mercury had shriveled up into a tiny ball in the bottom of the thermometer, so we're not sure just how cold it was. Let's just say that it wasn't fit for man nor beast to go out in that weather.

Which meant, of course, that I had to go out there. Something was wrong with my antenna and I had to see what it was.

Now you might think I'm a tad crazy going out on a night like that just to check my antenna. But it was survival, pure and simple. You see, it was the evening the local boys got together on the air to discuss important issues. Just the week before Bernie was telling us about the importance of not putting fabric dye in motor oil.

I guess I'd better explain that. Bernie had noticed stains on his driveway for some time but he could never figure out what was leaking out of his pickup truck. So what he did was to put different color dyes in the various different fluid reservoirs. Blue for oil, red for transmission fluid, green for brake fluid and so forth.

But the Easter egg dye that Bernie first used didn't seem to have much impact on the color of the various fluids, so Bernie switched to fabric dye. That didn't help identify the stains either, so he started putting more and more of it in the reservoirs, you know, so that the colors would show up when they leaked through to the driveway.

Well, at some point Bernie figured out that his oil pan was leaking. He never did see any blue stains on his driveway. What happened was that all the oil eventually leaked out and all he had in his engine was blue fabric dye (navy blue, actually), and all that burned up and turned black before it made its way down through the leak in the oil pan and onto the driveway. Bernie's engine siezed up long before he saw any blue stains underneath his truck.

Anyhow, you can see why it was important for me to get on the air that evening. There was no telling what sort of vital information might be discussed.

We didn't have an actual name for our local boys net. It wasn't like we had a formal club or anything. But the owner of the Burning Burrito Barn wouldn't let us reserve the picnic table at the edge of his parking lot unless it was an official meeting, so we came up with the name Radio Amateur Guys. So now the R.A.G. goes down there to chew on rawhide-like burritos once a week, just so we can keep the table. Mainly, though, we like to talk on the air.

But that night I just wasn't getting anything into the ether. I could hear the other boys, though not very well.

Fredrick was complaining about all the radios being made out of plastic these days and how when they busted they weren't any good for parts. Back when radios were made of real parts you still had something once the radio died. Freddy had used burned out tubes as Christmas tree ornaments. His wife had objected to that until he got some enamel paint and had decorated them in different colors. She balked, however, when he suggested they try to pass them off as cylindrical Easter eggs.

Norman said he used the casing from a defunct transmitter/receiver pair as breadboxes. He kept white bread in the transmitter case and rye bread in the receiver case.

Van told us he would take apart burned-up transformers and use the copper wire for all kinds of things. He never threw away broken furniture. He would bind up the busted part with copper wire like it was a mummy then coat the whole thing with his hot glue gun. The results weren't particularly pretty but they were really solid. He tried to use the rest of the transformers as refrigerator magnets, but his kids complained that they couldn't pry them loose from the refrigerator door, so he gave up on that idea.

I kept trying to put in my two cents but nobody was answering. I wanted to mention that even plastic could be recycled these days, and that one of the things they made from ground-up plastic was picnic tables. I thought that maybe if we donated a picnic table made out of recycled plastic radio parts to the Burning Burrito Barn, the owner wouldn't be so crabby toward us.

But I never got my suggestion on the air. Something was definitely wrong. And I knew it wasn't anything in the shack.

So I started bundling up to go outside. I told my wife I'd be on the roof for just a minute, but she just glowered at the TV set and pretended she hadn't heard me. She didn't like me spending the evening on the air chewing the fat with the local boys. She'd prefer that I use the time to hang curtains or repaint the living room or something else that was a lot of work. She even suggested once that I sit down and watch the TV with her. I mean, how crazy is that? Even with a satellite dish, reception is awful.

So I quietly left the room and slipped out the back to the work shed.

I figured I'd need both hands, so instead of using a flashlight I fired up this old barn lantern that I had. I dragged my ladder out of the shed and propped it up against the back of the house. I slipped a few tools into my pockets, clenched the bail of the lantern in my teeth, and started climbing.

Once I got to the top I kept my eyes pointed down. In the winter that roof can get slipperier than freshly waxed linoleum. Making my way up to the antenna was going to be a challenge. I had once asked my wife if I could drive some of those mountain climbing pitons into the roof, just for safety sake, you know.

You wouldn't believe the screaming.

Needless to say there were no pitons in the roof. But there were assorted vents and things, and I had the whole route to the antenna all mapped out in my head. It was an arduous journey, but I slowly made my way up there. I grabbed hold of the antenna mast, made sure of my footing, and slowly looked up. There in the light from the lantern was just what I was afraid I would see.

My radio emissions had frozen solid as they had left the antenna. There were wave-shaped icicles pointing in every direction.

Like I said, it can get really cold in Kaboogie Falls.

I knew I should have upped the power before transmitting on a night like this. You have throw everything you can into your signal, then hope that it reaches someone before it cools off, freezes, and goes crashing to the ground.

Anyway, I reached into my pocket and pulled out a ball peen hammer. I started tapping on the frozen radio waves. Little bits of them started breaking off and falling onto the roof. I had to go really slowly, 'cause I didn't want to shatter my antenna in the process. It took nearly half and hour to get the rid of the worst of it. Then I switched to a file, and between it and the heat from the lantern the rest of the wavecicles fell away. Satisfied that I'd done a good job, I started to make my way back down to the ladder.

I'd forgotten about the fragments of frozen radio waves lying all over the roof.

It was a fast trip down. I would've gone clean off the roof if my head hadn't crashed into the satellite dish. I kind of remember it making a sound like somebody hitting a gong. I don't know if it was my head or the dish that was ringing, but it was really loud. Then I was on the ladder. I didn't exactly climb down. It was more like my feet, and head, went thump-thump-thump down the rungs, sort of like someone driving on a flat tire. My feet hit the ground and for a moment I just stood there. Then, in slow motion, I fell backward and crashed into a holly bush. The lantern, its bail still clenched in my teeth, bounced once on my chest. Amazingly, it was still lit.

I don't know how long I lay there, but eventually I saw the face of my wife hovering over me. I thought she'd be mad enough to spit nails, but as she stared down at me her expression wasn't one of anger. It wasn't concern, either. It was a look I hadn't seen in a long time.

"Oh honey, what did you do?" she asked in a loving voice. "The TV reception is much better!"

E-mail Gary Ross Hoffman

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