My Life as a Dumb-ass


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My Life as a Dumb-ass
By Bobby Neal Winters

It all goes back to the year I spent in Utah. I had made myself a promise that while living on the BYU campus in housing subsidized by the good tithe-paying members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I would live as near to the “Word of Wisdom,” the Mormon moral code, as it was possible for an ex-Baptist who had been retread as a Methodist to live. It was a dry year as the Word of Wisdom prohibits the consumption of alcoholic beverages. That is to say it was dry while I was in Provo. When I went up to visit my cousin in Idaho, I was offered more free liquor than I had ever seen in my life by virtue of the fact they relished the novelty of giving a drink to a BYU professor, even though he was only a visiting one, and even though said professor was not a Mormon.

But that was only on Labor Day weekend before I had taken up my duties as professor. From then to the following summer was a desert with only the occasional oasis along the way.

Now, it's not that I am a big drinker, because I didn't even drink my first beer until I was twenty-four years old, and that was a St. Pauli Girl my friend Paul Young bought me the day after my first daughter was born. You never forget your first girl. And even after that, my drinking has been pretty spare except for a month I spent in Siberia, and that was in the line of duty.

No, I am not a big drinker, but it was like the old joke about someone telling you not to think of an elephant. The minute I was told I couldn't have a drink, I wanted a drink. By the time I returned from Provo, I had decided I wanted to learn how to make wine, and I began to go about this in a methodical fashion. How else would a Methodist do it?

The first step was to plant the grapes. No one said I wasn't patient. I planted four vines of assorted varieties of grapes the first spring I was back from Utah. It takes grapes three years to bear. I waited three years, they bloomed, the bore, and all of the grapes dried up into very hard little raisins as I looked helplessly on. It was a condition called “mummy grape” caused by a fungus. The next year I bought a fungicide, waited for them to bloom, and then read on the fungicide instructions that I had waited too late. That was another year full of hard raisins.

At that point, I decided to move my vines to a new location behind the garage, which I did, but the new location lacked the trellis I had built for the grapes at their original site, so I decided to build one. To do that, I needed two five-foot four-by-fours, and so I went to the lumberyard.

This is a recurring theme for me, that is to say the feeling of inadequacy at the lumberyard. I suppose it is because I was first introduced to the lumberyard by my Dad, and he always seemed to know the right thing to ask for. In hindsight, I know that was mainly because of experience, and I am gaining experience myself one humiliation at a time, but there is always a certain amount of stress when I go to ask for something.

The lumberyard I frequent uses an attractive young lady to staff the lumber desk. While on one hand, she has good people skills, on the other, it is somehow demeaning not to know more about lumber than a girl. I know that sounds sexist, and there is a reason for that. It is, but that is the way I was brought up.

I entered into the building, walked up to the young lady, and said, “I would like to buy two five-foot four-by-fours.”

“I'm sorry,” she said. “We don't sell them in that length.” There was a pause into which I expected information to be volunteered, but when all I got was more silence, I continued.

“What lengths do you sell them in?”

“Eight-foot, ten-foot, and sixteen-foot.”

I began to think and came onto a solution.

“Would you cut a ten-foot one in two for me?” As a mathematician, I know that five plus five is ten.

“I sorry,” she said. “It's against the law for us to do that?”

“Against the law?” I echoed stupidly.

“Yes, its OSHA regulations,” she said. “All of our lumber is treated, and so we aren't allowed to do it.”

As odd as it sounds, I understood that. Some lumber is treated with arsenic to prevent rotting. Cutting one board is not a problem, but cutting hundreds, like you'd have to do in a lumberyard, would.

The obvious answer would be for me to buy a ten-foot board and cut it at home, but there was a problem as I was in my station wagon. I could haul two five-foot four-by-fours in my station wagon, but not one ten-foot one.

I was not going to give up though and posed my last question.

“Do you deliver?” I asked.

“Yes,” she chirped.

I ordered the board, gave her all of the delivery information, and when totaling up, she informed me, “There is a five dollar charge for deliveries.”

The board itself only cost six dollars. I did an calculation that included the amount of time I had spent on this endeavor already, the likelihood of getting better service elsewhere in town, and what my time was worth to me on a sunny Saturday in the spring.

“That's fine,” I said. “I'll pay the five-dollars.”

They said they would deliver it later in the morning, so I went home and started walking around the yard with my wife, taking stock of the various plants as we often do.

We were on the front side of the house when my wife said, “There comes the lumber truck.”

I looked, and there it was. The driver was a man in his twenties. He was pulling up along the side of the street opposite our house when middle-aged lady who was apparently a friend of his pulled up beside him. I couldn't hear what she said, but the two began to carry on a conversation.

The lady said something.

“Yeah,” he replied, “I'm workin' at the lumberyard.”

She said something else.

“I'm over here cause some dumb-ass wanted one board delivered.”

At that point, something came over me, and I decided to enter the conversation.

“Howdy,” I said while waving my arm to get his attention. He looked toward me. “That's me. I'm the dumb-ass over here.”

At the point, the lady turned toward me. The look on her face was subtle and nuanced. There was a smile there, a look of understanding, and a desire to put distance between herself and her present location. She drove off.

“I'd like the board over here,” I said, pointing to a spot by my driveway.

He moved the board to the place I indicated.

He looked at his feet and said, “Sorry about the profanity.”

“Well,” I said, “someday you'll know you can't always do things the smartest way you know how.”

That was about a year ago. In the interim, I have harvested some grapes from the new location, and believe I could get a better crop if I had more support for my vines, so I went to the lumberyard to get another ten-foot four-by-four. This time I took my pickup truck. I bought the board and discovered the price is now eleven dollars.

I drove to the rear of the lumberyard where one retrieves one's purchases and was met by a young man who asked me with a bit of pique in his voice, “You want ONE board?”

Yep, just one dumb-ass board.

It's enough to make you quit drinking.
LOL! This is a great one. :)

Somehow the whole struggle is such a metaphor for the bigger struggle of life - that's not to mean that I'm tryiong to wax lyrical as much as the details of the struggle are just so accessible. And the dumb-ass comment just puts icing on it. The cherry on the top is that it all now costs $11. I just hope those grapes are worth it. :)
How long are you going to let the wine vintage, though? :)
That is the question. I know with fruit juice and sugar it takes less than a month, yet I suspect real wine will take rather longer.