Without a good storm in February, spring was – as I had expected – a long and arduous season that year. On the coast we only had two seasons; summer and rainy. When I moved to the prairies, people had told me that I would finally get to experience all four seasons. What they didn’t mention, however, was that it was sometimes possible to experience all four of them in a single week. As we entered March, it wasn’t uncommon to have rain on Monday, sun on Tuesday, and snow on Wednesday.
Humbug still had old fashioned back alleys of gravel and potholes. Big cities had long since started doing away with back alleys in residential neighborhoods and in the commercial districts, where alleyways were usually necessary, they tended to be paved. The alley behind my restaurant took on the guise of a war zone. The mixture of mud, water and gravel with sharp shards of broken ice sticking up from tire track trenches was daunting to navigate, to say the least. I needed to bring supplies in through the back door, however, so I had to find a solution.
Laying out planks to walk on was a terrible plan. Invariably they would sink, crack, or become a hazard as a slick layer of mud formed on them. In the morning they would be frozen into the ground and the layer of mud became a filthy layer of ice that only increased the hazard. I tried pulling them out of the mud at night and standing them against the back of the building but only wound up tracking in more mud than I would have had I not used them in the first place. In retrospect, I imagine my little plank endeavor was quite the joke amongst the Humbuggers.
It was time to adjust my footwear so I headed down to Lyle’s hardware store for some rubber boots. I was always amazed at the assortment of things available in his little store. Years of experience had provided Lyle with an uncanny knack for stocking just what was needed for the season. As I perused the rubber boot selection, Lyle walked up and recommended a cheap light work jacket – the sort you would expect a stereotypical lumberjack to wear. He said I should hang it by the back door to wear when I ran out in my rubber boots so that my good jacket didn’t get spattered in mud. He was a hell of a salesman. The combination was just what I needed to deal with my mortar-shelled back alley.
My rubber boots and work jacket held a prominent position in the back entrance throughout that long wet, melting, freezing, muddy season. Even Jeffrey and Marty would slip them on to take out the trash. Marty had to walk on his toes to fit in my boots, but he had a tendency to keep his heels off the ground anyway so that worked out just fine. One day he called for help and as I looked out I spotted him standing on one foot like a Sandhill Crane, with one of the boots fully five feet behind him. When he looked at me and gulped and then blinked like a big ostrich I laughed so hard that I fell back through the door. I had no idea how he had taken such a big stride from that boot but there wasn’t much I could do to help him so I just kept laughing.
By the time he retrieved the boot, threw the garbage in the bin, and slugged his way through the muck and mire back into the kitchen, he was spattered in mud from head to knees – below his knees he wasn’t spattered at all but, rather, fully coated. Had I not laughed so hard at his predicament he might have taken the time to wash the mud out of the inside of my rubber boots. I discovered his decision to leave the mud inside them the next time I slipped them on to head out back. Fortunately he wasn’t there when it happened.
A few days later I headed out to pay some bills and pick up supplies at a number of shops. I decided to wear my boots and work jacket for my errands so I could just pull into the back of the store to unload everything. As I made my way from store to store I noticed quite a few Humbuggers had made equally practical choices in footwear and overcoats that day, and I felt a certain camaraderie with them. I stopped into Lyle’s store to pick up a candy thermometer and was glad to find that he stocked a basic model. All too many stores had stopped stocking regular candy thermometers to force the purchase of the digital equivalent; which usually ended up needing new batteries by the time you needed them.
As I was making my purchase, an SUV screeched to a halt in front of the store. A well dressed man hopped out and strode in with a cell phone to his ear. He walked straight up to the key chain display by the register and began scanning them franticly as he yammered away on his cell phone about couriering a file. Finally he turned to Lyle and asked, “Where are your key chain drives?”
“You’ll have to go to the computer store for those,” Lyle answered.
“What?” the man exclaimed, “I just need a simple key chain drive, not some special memory card or anything.”
“The computer store is just up the street,” Lyle answered patiently.
“My laptop’s about to die and I don’t have my cord with me. How can you sell key chains without drives?”
“This is a hardware store.” Lyle explained, still with seemingly untaxed patience.
“Yeah, and hardware stores sell key chains. That’s why I stopped here. You’ve wasted my time!”
I had had about enough of this and I turned to the guy and said, “He told you where the computer store is – what more do you want?”
He gave me one look up and down, then looked at the candy thermometer on the counter and said, “If I thought you knew what a USB drive was I would tell you – but I can see you need to get back to the farm to dig potatoes and make some fudge for the kids.”
“Potatoes are dug in the fall,” I exclaimed, “and rubber boots don’t equate with computer illiteracy, moron!”
“Well thank you for the farming lesson, Broom Hilda!” he blurted back.
“Farming lesson!” I exclaimed, “I’ll have you know…”
Lyle grabbed me by the arm and stopped me short. He turned to the man and said, with still untaxed patience, “The computer store is just up the street.”
With that, the arrogant idiot, who had forgotten to pack a charging cord for his laptop, charged out the door. He jumped into his SUV and sped off. I turned to Lyle and said, “Imagine that asshole talking to me like an idiot just because I’m wearing rubber boots. Who the hell does he think he is?”
“Imagine that,” Lyle reiterated, just as patiently as he had started.