Friday, December 12, 2014

Me n Poot Ponder the Atomic Weight of Stupid

He was an old man who had spent his entire adult life trying to determine the atomic weight of stupid.

"A serious scientist," he used to tell us. "A serious scientist."

Large piles of "research"-- newspapers, magazines, and coverless books-- grew like thick, tall Johnsongrass on the floor of his living room while he spent the largest part of his time on the redwood deck attached to the rear of his trailer house. His blue eyes often cast an unfocused gaze into the lonely pine trees of his Carroll County twenty while his mind did mental gymnastics and pondered the mysteries of the universe. The thin white hair of his small head was a stranger to a comb although he did bathe on occasion. Special occasion.

Me 'n Poot met him in the summer of 1971. We had ridden our mopeds into the hills on a mission to find some new squirrel hunting territory for the fall when we found him. He we was on a semi-gravel path where we came upon him in the road trying to kill a snake. Having walked out to his mailbox and almost stepping on a copperhead, he had started a fight he was about to lose. We saved his life. Me 'n Poot was heroes.

That was the last summer we was still scooting around with our .22 rifles slung over our backs held in place with our homemade gun slings. We stopped and shot the snake then pried the creature's mouth open with a stick revealing the two fangs that had barely missed the old man's hairy bare leg. He wore cut off overalls and walked barefoot most of the time.

He invited us to "neighbor" with him, and we accepted, the beginning of a lot of neighboring. We were impressed most of all with the refrigerator and freezer on the back porch, and that is when we knew he was a genius. It wasn't the badly weathered Periodic Table taped to his back wall of his trailer that convinced us. It was the fridge and the freezer.

There wasn't much in either one, but just the fact that he was smart enough to have them on his porch let me know he was class above. I knew what my mom would say. 'You don't put a refrigerator or a freezer on a porch.' If I asked why, the answer would simply be, 'It's just not done.' But he did it and it worked and it made the porch feel real nice and inviting like a place you lived instead of a place you looked at. 

Besides the fridge, he had a grill, a picnic table, and a few chairs back there. There was also a dog but he lay around like a stick of firewood and we never payed no attention to him until he treed on day. But that's a whole nuther story.

We were most excited when we found out we could chew tobacco in front of him and didn't even have to be particular about how or where we spit. We tried to shoot it between the 2x6s, but it was no big deal if we missed. Since he was a grown up and we chewed tobacco in front of him, we felt grown up and free when we were there. We not only chewed, but we smoked cigars, cussed, and said nasty stuff about girls. It was all a boy could ever want.

He had a couple of acres of open land with a barn and a small pond that we quickly acquired permission to fish. Pines covered the rest of his twenty but his place joined eighty acres of hardwoods owned by a cousin of his who was a yankee and lived way off in yankeeville somewhere. He said we could hunt that all we wanted as long as we didn't burn the woods up with fire. Hot dog. That is why we rode up that way to begin with.

We quickly became regulars at Edward Smith's. At first we called him Mr. Smith, then Mr. Ed, then Ed Head. Eventually we just called him Head. He didn't mind, and he was the first adult me or Poot either one had ever called by his first name. We didn't tell our parents about Head. We knew what they would say. They would suspicion him of being a murderer or a molester or some sort of criminal. But all he wanted to do was neighbor, think, and try to get us to think. He used to ask us all sorts of questions and try to tell us stuff. Out of the blue he would ask us, "What is the square root of . . . ?" some ungodly number. Or he would say, "Did you know?" But he learned if he pushed us too hard we would leave, so he would stop when we started getting ready to go.

One day, after he had gone too far, he tried to get us to stay by saying he would cook any fish we caught in his pond. Since it was getting late in the afternoon, we left anyway but promised to come back the next day and take him up on his offer.

We showed up with a couple of cheap Zebcos and a little tackle box. Head laughed out loud when we borrowed his dip net and a number two wash tub which we drug to the pond along with our fising rods. We went to the levee on one end where the water was deep and some trees hid us from view of the porch. Poot had a single stick of dynamite in his tackle box. Although it has been forty-four years, we still can't tell you where we got it cause we crossed our hearts and hoped to die and stick a needle in our eye. 

Poot tied the dynamite to a window weight with a one foot long piece of bailing wire, lit it with his cigar, and tossed it into the deepest hole in the pond. Since it was late summer and the water was hot, we knew that's where the fish would be.

It didn't make a big noise cause the water was so deep. There was just a low rumble, the water lit up orange like some giant lights were turned on under there and it sort of bubbled up. Then fish like you never saw came floating to the top. There was bream by the double hand full, catfish like you wouldn't believe, and some bass one of which was ten pounds if he was an ounce. We quickly filled the wash tub and a good eight minutes after we parked our mopeds we was looking at Head's eyes about to pop out of his head.

"How . . . how?" he kept asking.

"What's the atomic weight of smart?" Poot asked.

Head's freezer was as full as our bellies when we motored off that day, and he never knowed how we got all them fishes although he asked about twenty-five hunderd times.