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
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
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
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
E-mail Gary Ross Hoffman