by Matt LeShay
The meandering cart trail hanging off the sides of mountains and edges of cliffs will eventually lead you to our island home in what is informally known as the “Dutch Antilles.” “Our” refers to a six-house, sea-side village built on coral and volcanic rocks. Few touristas come here. Nor, for that matter, do islanders. Motoring the trail can be dangerous to the unschooled. It is best to do it after or during your “beer time.” It doesn't make the drive less dangerous, it just makes it so you don't care.
Some people have walked to our village, though usually, they’re the Birkenstock crowd. They ask inane questions as to what we do here, pay no attention to the answers, then hike back to the big village to sit in the air conditioning and complain about the Napa Valley wine: “We asked for imported.” The correct response would be, “Hey buddy, it is imported! You’re on an island. Everything is imported. Care for ice with that Mad Dog?”
As to the question, ‘what do we do here?’ at present, our occupation is stealing. It never used to be, but since being taken over by the Dutch, everything now belongs to the King, and that’s what we do. We steal his fish, his wild goats, chickens, and iguana. We take our plunder to the big village, selling door-to-door. Currently, ourcurrency is in guilders, which we exchange for rice, beans, and flour. Beer, rum, and tobacco, too.
INSTEAD OF STEALING . . . I WORK ON JEEPS
I’ve never been much of a thief, so I leave the stealing to others. What I am is a fair mechanico. I keep the village outboards and Jeep running. The outboards are easy: 15-horse Yamahas. Very seldom do they have any trouble, but when there do, there is no problem getting parts. The WWII-vintage Jeep was abandoned after the war. There are problems finding parts for it!
A fair mechanico — like myself — has to completely rethink the idea of mechanicoing (is that a word?) Breakdowns, which happen about every third trip, are set right by me. When transporting a perishable product such as fish, you can’t dilly-dally when it comes to fixing a break-down. Being able to reliably transport goods is as important as what’s being transported.
I’m also the only one who drives the Jeep. Oh, others know how to drive, and I encourage them, but they find the guilt factor far too great when the thing breaks down. When a breakdown occurs while I am driving the Jeep, I have a ritual I perform: I get out, pick up a rock, throw it at the Jeep, then start wrenching. If I’m coming home from selling and shopping, I drink a few beers before the throwing and wrenching.
Let me explain about the throwing part. With an ancient military Jeep such as our village Jeep, no damage can be done. The windshield, lights, mirrors, and dash gauges have long ago been dispatched by previous operators.
As I write this, today’s chore is the rod bearings. I will accomplish this by craftily cutting aluminum from a Coors beer can. By the way, Coors uses the thinnest cans of any brewery, saving them a whopping .00013 cents per case. With the absence of new bearings, (damn, if I don’t get tired of the parts store guy laughing at me in Dutch when I ask for parts!), this stroke of genius is good for one month or fifteen trips, whichever comes first. It has become part of the regular preventive maintenance. The sub-chore is to figure out what to do about the old, constantly reused pan gasket that has finally disintegrated into dust during the pan removal!
As I laid on my back in deep thought, something caught my eye. I had been under this old rig hundreds of times, but today is the first I’ve noticed “it.” Peering out at me from the side of the long-ago gutted-out winch casing is a sight glass! Can you believe it — a sight glass! Apparently, it was installed so when you crawled under your Jeep, you couldcheck the winch’s oil level.
Let’s hear it for the Uncle Sam we’ve all come to know and love! Imagine this scenario: On the beaches of Iwo Jima, through all kinds of bombs, machine guns, and rifle fire, Major Fuggup yells, “Private! Crawl under that Jeep and check the sight glass!”
I broke it, and, shazam! Like a lightning bolt in a Captain Marvel comic, I had an idea for solving my pan gasket dilemma.
A UNIQUE “CHEWING” SOLUTION
My yelling while working on the Jeep is nothing new. It means either I scraped my knuckles, smashed a thumb, or just a reflection of my complete and utter frustration. The village kids always come running when they hear me yell. To them, it means creative expressions and some big-league rock-throwing. But not today.
When the kids came to see what was going on, I gave each of them two sticks of my hoarded, island-rare, Black Jack chewing gum. I ordered them to begin to chew, telling them (in jest!), “Any one of you who swallows the gum will be drawn and quartered!” Not swallowing is a difficult task to set before anyone, especially a child. Therefore, the severe threat. Black Jack tastes so darn good, I can’t begin to tell you how many sticks I’ve swallowed in my thirty-two years of dedicated Black Jack chewing.
When the sugary flavor abates, each kid is instructed to spit their gum into my hand. Lord help the child who couldn’t spit the created mass of two sticks! I carefully form the gum on the pan. It looked good, but the “proof is in the ‘puttin’” (or is that puddin’?)
Anyway, the proof was really in the boltin’ of the pan to the block. After adding back the thrice-strained motor oil, I had the kids push-start the Jeep. Push start?While that’s a whole ‘nother story, suffice it to know that it involves the generator, starter, switches, and wires that don’t short. Sometimes, it is easier to just push the damn thing or find a hill.
With the machine running, I checked the pan for leaks. What I saw left me in a joyous mood: No leaks! And, add to that, no rod bearing noise!
In a devil-may-care philanthropic gesture, I gave each kid a half-stick of gum. (Cheap? Hey, we’re talking Black Jack here!) I tell them, if they so choose, they may swallow — neither me, the church, or the Blessed Mother would come down on them. I do add, however, “To to be on the safe side, you might mention it at confession: ‘Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I wantonly swallowed my Black Jack chewing gum’.”
They were very happy as they scurried off with the Village Jeep idling, ready for another day of service.