The College of Hard Knocks: How I Learned To Stop Bragging (Spiritual Psychology)

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Oh, learning to stop took a spiritual psychology lesson, all right. I didn’t think of it as bragging–nothing I said was untrue or even embellished–but the College of Hard Knocks thought otherwise. There was a price to pay for opening my big mouth, and a dandy it turned out to be. Had it not been for my wife…but perhaps we should begin at the beginning.

Note: The names of people other than my wife have been either fictionalized or avoided to protect the privacy of those involved. All other details are factual.

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In the mountains outside of Craig, Montana, in the year 2001, Pam and I lived off grid in a 12′ x 16′ cabin. One fine sunshiny winter afternoon, during my days off from a long haul trucking job that took me all across the country, I was headed back home after running a few errands and decided to stop in at Joe’s Bar in Craig for a few minutes. Not to drink, having quit alcohol entirely some decades earlier, but just to hang out, have a soda, shoot the breeze with whatever neighbors might happen to be on the premises.

Not that I knew any of them well. Joe’s was not my watering hole. However, we all knew William, the self appointed Bully of the Mountain, with whom I’d had a bit of a street scuffle in September of 1999. The confrontation hadn’t amounted to much. He’d been misinformed about Pam and me, started trash talking on one of the dirt roads on the mountain when he and I were both in our respective vehicles, and I’d allowed the ball to start rolling by finally saying,

“All right, if you want to start the assault, come on.”

Naturally, he’d taken me up on the offer. It really hadn’t amounted to much. He’d clonked me about the head and shoulders a bit, I’d ducked out of range and repositioned, then used a series of knee level snap kicks (plus one in the cojones) to give him some sort of reason to stay off of me until his blind rage could wear off a bit. From there, it had mellowed out rapidly, progressing to the point of yelling at each other and in the end, actually talking it out. By choice, I’d never gone on offense. On the other hand, he’d not been able to put me on the ground, either.

So it was, in my view, an honorable draw. We became good neighbors, with only one additional incident between us, and that one worked out in a matter of seconds.

However, William had many acquaintances on the mountain, and he let it be known that he had thoroughly kicked my a**. It was easy for folks to believe, especially since I had a dandy shiner from the only punch that really landed during our little set-to. With me showing rainbow colors and no marks on him, his version of the story was automatically accepted by many of our mutual neighbors.

This was not a problem for me, but when the incident came up during conversation at Joe’s that day, I decided to tell it the way it really happened…and I shouldn’t have done that, for the following spiritual reasons:

    1. Having people in the area believe I’d been whupped wasn’t bothering me that much. I’d known that was the local belief from the beginning. There was no need to set the record straight.

    2. William did need to have it believed that nobody in the area could stand up to him. Thus, when I put my side of it out there–and the folks in Joe’s that day were undoubtedly some of William’s drinking buddies–I automatically dinged the man’s ego as well as making him out a liar.

Let’s recap that: By pushing my version of the truth, I hurt the man’s reputation unnecessarily. Gratuitous damage infliction.

As a long time student of Eckankar, the Religion of the Light and Sound of God, I knew I’d messed up. To celebrate my stupidity, I ordered and ate one of Joe’s tasty bratwurst hot dogs, shot the breeze with the others, and headed on up the road toward home.

When I told Pam what I’d done, she also knew instantly that I’d blown it, big time. She didn’t say much, but she knew, and I could tell she knew.

We did not know that retribution was already on its way. Spirit had arranged for an interesting case of food poisoning; the bratwurst had been a bomb that was already exploding in my intestines. Not many hours after dark, around 8:30 p.m., I sat down on the bucket toilet we used behind a curtain in the tiny cabin, relieved myself explosively…and then pitched forward, face first on the floor, unconscious before I fell.

Pam was certain I was dead.

Even disabled as she was, my wife retained enormous strength for a five foot, 92 pound woman, but I was 180 pounds of dead weight. She was struggling to lift me when I meandered back to consciousness. Somehow, she got me cleaned up, and I more or less conked back out on my sleeping pallet on the floor. Then Pam lugged the smelly bucket outside, figuring to trek by flashlight through the snow to the outhouse hole to dump the thing.

My first real awareness came when she burst back in the door, yelling, “Somebody stole the outhouse! It’s not there!”

Her paranoia was in full blaze. She was convinced some evil group of neighbors had conspired to steal our outhouse. But the thing was, it was not an outhouse that could be stolen. There was a bench over the hole, a two seater, but no enclosing structure–and the bench was strongly nailed to 4″ x 4″ posts set four feet into the ground.

After a bit, I got to feeling considerably better and got up to go take a look. Yep, as I’d figured, my honey had lost it. To reach the outhouse, we followed a trail some 100 feet or so through the snow, then used a 2″ x 12″ plank bridge to cross the ditch that supplied a downstream rancher’s pond. Beyond the ditch, it was another 80 feet or so through more snow and low buck brush to the outhouse hole.

The contents of the bucket had never gotten that far. She’d dumped everything a good 30 feet short of the bridge. Her tracks went in circles around that area.

No, of course she didn’t believe me. I had to show her. She was stunned. But Pam had lived homeless for more than two years at one time; she knew what being totally alone would mean, totally alone with the family’s breadwinner gone, maybe $60 left in our bank account, nothing in savings. I couldn’t blame her for losing it.

Wait. It’s not over.

Thankfully, I felt pretty good in the morning. That was important, because I was due back on duty. Our company dispatcher got me a load that routed us down I-15 to the Santa Fe Springs, California, terminal. Once there, and after getting a few hours of sleep, we shipped back out again with a load of carpet to take on a relatively short hop to our Las Vegas terminal. As usual, we pulled out of Los Angeles County shortly after midnight, Pam riding shotgun…

…and by 3:00 a.m., working the Baker grade out of California into Nevada, I was sick again. I had to pull over on the shoulder, Pam saying nothing when she noted that I’d left the trailer’s left rear corner dangerously close to the freeway’s right hand travel lane; she knew I was in trouble.

Still, a couple of hours of troubled sleep behind the wheel got me going again, and we made our delivery at the Las Vegas terminal on time, early on a Friday morning, roughly 48 hours after coming on duty in Helena, Montana.

But I wasn’t going to make it much farther. Before we pulled out after dropping off the carpet, I Qualcommed the dispatcher with the following message:

    VERY SICK, NEED TO TAKE WEEKEND OFF. AIMING FOR NORTH LAS VEGAS PETRO. HOPE TO BE GOOD TO GO BY MONDAY MORNING.

Almost immediately, the answer came back:

    GO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. WE’LL TALK TO YOU ON MONDAY.

All the time, Pam and I both knew this was payback, bad karma for running my big mouth about the scuffle with William, naughty naughty. At this point, however, why it was happening no longer mattered. I just had to survive it. Antibiotics would have definitely been helpful, or a good batch of colloidal silver, but we had neither, nor did we have the funds or the energy to seek out an emergency room and then a pharmacy. My body was going to have to cowboy up on its own.

I made it to the Petro, but I don’t remember parking. Pam tells me my angle in the slot wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough…and then I was gone. For the next two days, I had no clue where I was. I sh*t the sheets in the sleeper, and Pam got them out from under me somehow, lugged them into the truck stop, and washed them. Another trucker, a good man who happened to be on a layover for a couple of days, waiting for a load, appointed himself my wife’s guardian.

“Your man’s down,” he told her, “and you’re an automatic target out here.”

She was aware of that, of course, and deeply appreciated the man’s assistance. He carried the heavy laundry basket back and forth for her more than once, escorted her both ways between the truck and the truck stop entrance, stood guard as he felt the need.

By the time I began returning to the world on Sunday, the sheets were clean and I suspected I might live.

Wait. It’s not over.

Oh, I’d come through the worst of it with Pam’s help and the help of a fellow driver I never got to thank (not that he was seeking thanks), but I was a long way from being 100%.

However, I was able to Qualcomm dispatch, first thing Monday morning, saying,

    LOOKS LIKE I’LL LIVE. NOT WELL BUT CAN DRIVE. CAN YOU FIND ME A LOAD THROUGH DRUMMOND? IF SO, CAN GET ANTIBIOTICS PRESCRIPTION FROM FAMILY DOCTOR.

The company’s dispatchers were good. Really good. Within thirty minutes of my Qualcomm, I had my marching orders. The shipper was over in Arizona, though, not at Kingman but at some small town shipper in that general direction. Don’t ask me the name of the town or what they were shipping, but I can tell you that picking up the load involved running 120 miles empty, waiting for what seemed an eternity to get the cargo into the trailer, then doubling back into Nevada to pick up I-15 northbound.

I could drive, but I still couldn’t eat much. A few crackers with peanut butter or cheese or something.

By the time we were lined out northbound, headed up through Utah, Pam was toast. I doubt she’d slept for the past three days, but she slept then…and that was a luxury I could not afford. Our loaded trailer was destined to be dropped of at company headquarters in Missoula, but more importantly, I had to hit my old home town of Drummond, Montana, between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and noon on Tuesday. My kid sister was at that time the administrator of the small town’s only medical clinic. A physician out of Philipsburg (and a family friend) kept morning hours at the Drummond clinic on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He’d need to see me before writing a prescription for antibiotics. Therefore….

Idaho was the toughest. In the middle of the night, soft snow coming down, I couldn’t make it any farther without running off the road or causing a head on collision. A rest stop beckoned. I pulled in, parked, got out, hit the restroom long enough to take a leak, returned to the truck, set the alarm for 90 minutes, napped, and got going again.

Pam slept through it all.

We hit Drummond at the perfect time, got me checked out by Doc, grabbed the prescription, and hit the road again. In Missoula, we picked up the Z-pack, I popped 1,000 milligrams of Zithromax, and we were good to go Truly now, the worst must be over.

Wait. There’s more. Open big mouth, insert e. coli bratwurst. What, fool, you thought this was going to be easy? You needed a lesson!

Out of Missoula with a fresh, empty trailer. Over Lookout Pass, stopping at the Flying J at Post Falls, Idaho. Our dispatch then takes us through Spokane, Washington, just as night is falling on Tuesday–but wait. What’s this? My gut needs help again. No more soiled sheets, and especially no soiled truck seats, thank you very much.

Cramping hard, I manage to get the truck parked at a Walmart just off the freeway in the Spokane area. Pam waits in the rig while I walk stiff-legged across the parking lot. The store has come out with its generic “Equate” version of Imodium AD, Anti Diarrheal. I buy a bunch, pop a few dry on the way back to the truck, and we head out.

Within minutes, things are much better down south.

No (*sigh*), it’s not over yet.

The load we’re after is back in Idaho, requiring us to drop south, cross over from Pullman (WA) to Moscow (ID), then curl around a bit more on Idaho roads to reach our target town.

On the way to Pullman, I take a wrong turn. Trying to turn around on a dirt side road in the dark, the truck spins out in a slushy icy nasty shallow puddle spot. I spend half an hour trying to throw chains, just a set of singles, nothing to it. The passenger side chain is hooked up, but I can’t manage to get the driver side hook to reach. Unlike the oil patch, where I’d be using small flashlights that could be held in the mouth, freeing both hands for chain work, we only have big old nasty flashlights with us…and I’m just. Too. Weak.

In the end, the porch light comes on at the farm house 150 yards back down the frontage road, and the farmer comes out to help. I’m grateful, and as it turns out, all he has to do is shine some light on the situation. The chain is hooked up and ready to go within seconds. We thank the Good Samaritan–profusely–and pull right on out of there, taking the chains back off thirty feet later.

We don’t get lost any more.

Our load is to be big, 2,000 pound bags of dried peas. We find the shipper’s warehouse and office by around two a.m., but there’s no place to park there. Fumbling around the steep-hilled town, scrabbling over the snowy streets, we come across an all night grocery store. No place to park 72 feet of 18 wheeler there, either, but there’s a feed store across the street that’s closed for the night. If we get out of there before daylight–which we have to do, anyway–we can park in their driveway.

I don’t dare get out of my clothes or even leave the driver’s seat. There isn’t time enough. I get two and a half hours of fitful “rest” before the alarms goes off…

…and get stuck turning out of the store’s driveway.

This time, the rig gets chained up all around. Which is good, because…well, see, there’s this alley behind the shipper’s place of business. In order to park in front of their place so that we’re waiting to load when they show up to open the doors, all we need to do is truck on through that alley, hook a couple of lefts, and–

–and there’s a snow drift in the alley. Backing up is not an option. I get the Volvo through it eventually, but not before spinning hard enough to throw a single chain from the passenger side. The chain vanishes into the snow, to be found the following spring by whoever happens to meander that way.

Getting positioned to load presents a challenge, too. The customers are good people, but their storage is underground. I have to block off a residential street with the truck, angle the trailer back, to the left, and down into the loading bay over a seriously steep incline.

But then, finally, it really is over. The Volvo powers up out of there with no problem. By the time we hit the two lane highway out of town and I stop on the shoulder to pull the chains, I’m back on my game. I’d run my big mouth and also swallowed that special edition bratwurst ten days earlier, on a Sunday. We’ve gone the week around since, plus moved on through the next week into a pleasant Wednesday morning.

By the time we come across a Subway sandwich shop and stop to grab some vittles for the road, I even have an appetite. Life is good, as was the lesson in spiritual psychology.

Thus teacheth the College of Hard Knocks: He who runneth his mouth heedlessly shall likewise runneth at the other end.

When they call somebody Diarrhea Mouth, they’re not whistling Dixie.

2 thoughts on “The College of Hard Knocks: How I Learned To Stop Bragging (Spiritual Psychology)

  1. Wow, what a way to learn a lesson! Pam sure is a trooper – what a woman! Although your story is far from funny (or the reason behind the story, anyway) I had to chuckle at the end. Great closing line, Ghost!

  2. Thanks, Sha. Pam is definitely a trooper–in Buzz Lightyear’s terminology, “To Infinity And Beyond!”.

    Glad you liked the closing line. 🙂

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