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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

If I Had a Hammer…

The House that Would be BuiltI heard a rumor the other day, a rumor that grew out of fact: the fact being Kelly Bolles had a “For Sale” sign on his green pickup truck. Those who frequent the Valley recognize Kelly’s truck, usually with trailer in tow, as a Valley regular. More often than not both vehicles pass me when I’m afoot or cruising along on Gladys. When I saw the truck parked roadside of the fruit stand at the corner of Tualco with a “For Sale” sign conspicuously displayed on a window, I thought I’d ask Michael at Tropical Blends Espresso if he knew what was going on. “Yeah,” I’m told, “Kelly’s going to North Dakota.” “What’s up with that?” I asked. “I don’t know…guess he’s going there to drive truck.” The Ripple, of course, does not give voice to rumor, so I set out to learn more.

Just the next day I was wheeling by Kelly’s perpetual renovation high rise and there was his truck, trailer attached, and Kelly himself hauling stuff from his airy basement to the trailer. Here’s the opportunity to do some rumor busting, I thought, and headed up Kelly’s driveway toward the truth.

I wait until the Truffle King reappears from his vaulted basement carrying the odds and ends to be trailered away. “So you’re selling the truck?” I ask, pointing to the sign on the canopy window. “Yes,” Kelly replies. “I have an apartment rented in North Dakota and need to raise the money to travel there.” “It’s difficult to spread the word when you’re still using the rig, isn’t it?”I joke. Kelly laughs and says he needed to haul some stuff, do a little cleaning up around the place. I laugh,“I guess you do get a wider audience driving around the area than you would leaving it parked on the corner.” So the rumor is true: Kelly Bolles is off to North Dakota. “I have to do something,” he says and nods towards the lofty house. “It’s pretty much tapped me out.” I’ve discussed Kelly’s perpetual renovation with him before, learned the remodel and proprietor are caught up in an inescapable snare. As is the case with many serious home upgrades, the homeowner does one project at a time and then waits for the bank account to recover before he tackles the next. Just when Kelly has set aside the money to move forward, his County permits expire or the codes change and he has to use his reserves to acquire new permits. Kelly’s household seems mired in the classic Catch-22 conundrum.

“So are you selling out, then?” I asked, thinking about the mycological experiment Kelly began last spring (“Trifling with Truffles or There’s Fungus Among Us in the Valley,” 5/29/2011). Kelly shakes his head. “Who’ll be watching after the berries—and those truffles?” I learn Paul Bischoff will be superintending the place while Kelly browses the greener pastures of North Dakota. Besides, the first truffle is three years distant. Why North Dakota, I wonder. “There’s plenty of work there,” Kelly’s replies. I guess “work” means driving truck. I don’t know if I could tolerate those harsh North Dakota winters myself and share my concern with Kelly. As so often happens in idle conversation, at this point the topics leapfrog, turn random. “Mexico,” laughs Kelly. “I wouldn’t go there for anything,”referencing the drug cartels that have turned many areas of siesta land into war zones. My rebuttal surprises Kelly. “Alaska,” I reply. “Wouldn’t want to go there.” That puzzles him and he wants to know why. “Bears,” I tell him, “I’m afraid of the bears.” He replies, “Bears?…I’m more afraid of the Rottweilers and German Shepherds I meet than bears.” He has a point. If you’ve read The Ripple, you know I’ve posted a few Valley dog stories myself. But I’m always up for another good dog story—especially if I’m not personally involved in the storyline. At this point we leave North Dakota, Mexico and Alaska for the geography class, and courtesy of Kelly’s caninophobia I’ll share this story he told me.     Kelly B., future truffle king

One of Kelly’s contractors in the perpetual renovation loop was a cement finisher. Noting that Kelly’s farm had plenty of open space, the contractor asked him if he could bring his dog to work with him during the day while he went about his work. “What kind of a dog is it?” Kelly asked cautiously. A mastiff was the answer. Now a mastiff is no small animal and right away Kelly was apprehensive. “Is it friendly…like people?” The answer predictably was “yes,”(Have you ever met a dog owner whose dog wasn’t?) “Does it like cats?” Kelly asked, thinking of the numerous felines that call Bolles’ Organic Farms their home. “Oh, he kills cats,” was the candid answer. Now as far as I’m concerned, that should have been a red flag, but Kelly Bolles is the easiest going type of character you’ll ever meet and after some hesitation gave the cement man permission, stipulating, “Ok, but you’ll have to keep him tied up then.” 

So to work the mastiff came and spent the days tethered to his master’s truck by a stout rope. Then came a day when the contractor decided he was going to knock off and head to town for lunch. Perhaps he didn’t want to share his meal with the mastiff--I not sure--but riddle me this: how many Happy Meals could a mastiff put away? Whatever his reason, the contractor re-tethered the dog, left it behind, and drove off to seek his lunch.

I’ll take a break from the story myself in order to relate some mastiff facts guaranteed to add more punch to Kelly’s story. When I think of “mastiff,” the word immediately associates with “massive.”A pack of chihuahuas could loll comfortably in the shade of one mastiff—if each weren’t afraid of becoming a doggie snack. Although there are different varieties of mastiff, the English mastiff is touted as being “the world’s largest dog.” Bred to be a guard dog, (the Romans called the mastiff a “war dog”), this canine behemoth has a set of jaws that could crush a Smart Car. Come to think of it, I wonder if Kelly asked the cement guy just how his dog “liked” people….

While the mastiff’s master was in town sampling the local fast food fare, Kelly had some visitors. Dog people, too, it turned out. The visitors exited their vehicle and brought their dog with them. The visitors’ breed of choice, according to Kelly, was a whippet style dog. If you’re not up on your dog breeds or a fancier of dog racing, the whippet is a medium-sized dog, a smaller version of the greyhound, and like the larger dog, genetically engineered for speed, especially bred to run things down, not grind them up. The shorthaired whippet’s streamlined body is held aloft by small-boned, ballerina type legs. Apparently, too, the visiting whippet had an amiable nature, and spotting its mountain-sized cousin tethered nearby, sauntered over for a friendly “Howja do.” The mastiff responded to the offer of friendship by grabbing a mouthful of whippet, chomping down hard, and locking its jaws on the unfortunate well-wisher. Yips and howls of distress quickly brought Kelly and the whippet’s masters to the rescue. However, nothing seemed to phase the giant and try as the rescuers might, every attempt to free the whippet from the jaws of death failed; all frantic efforts to relax the canine vice-grip were to no avail.

It so happened that also in the loop of perpetual renovation and on site for the day was a carpenter. Hearing the ruckus below, he ran to the nearest window, and assessing the gravity of the situation, quickly rushed to the scene shouting, “I know what to do!” To Kelly’s surprise, the carpenter, wielding the tool of his trade, bypassed the massive jaws, ran to the stern of the brute and…. At this point Kelly demonstrated what happened next. In a smooth, sideways motion as if he were using both hands to chunk a stick of wood into a woodstove, Kelly mimed what the carpenter did next with his hammer. Either surprised by the assault on its backside or the sensation it caused, the mastiff’s jaws sprung open as if someone pushed a magic button. Released from those champing jaws, the freed whippet quickly used its graceful legs to distance itself from the slobbering massive maw. As he finished his story, a gleeful grin flashed across Kelly’s face.

Unless they’re a carpenter, not many go about their daily lives carrying a tool belt or a hammer, nor would it be practical for me to carry either while out in the Valley astride Gladys. I’ll continue to pack the much lighter pepper spray canister when I venture out there. The Ripple relates Kelly’s story as a public service, a tip or helpful hint, if you will, that should a reader some day find himself in a similar circumstance, there’s a very good way to get a handle on—or in--the situation.

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