Emend by Eclipse
Copyright© 2021 by Lazlo Zalezac
November 24, 1974
It was Sunday afternoon. The day outside was in the high 40s, the sky was clear and the wind was blowing at a nearly constant 20 mph. Taking into account the wind chill, it felt like the mid-30s, it was a good day to stay inside.
Tim and Benny were taking it easy at Benny’s house. Now that the weather had turned decidedly colder, they were done with mowing lawns and painting curbs. Their work week now consisted of cleaning office buildings.
The good news for them was that Thursday was Thanksgiving. The office buildings were going to be closed from Thursday through Sunday giving them a four day weekend. They were feeling positively slothful and not ashamed of it at all.
This Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys were playing the Houston Oilers. A result of living in Oklahoma City was that the closest pro-football team to cheer was the Dallas Cowboys. Benny’s family had a slightly different take on it. They hated the Dallas Cowboys with a passion and cheered for any team that was playing them. This was not a good day for Houston. By the end of the first half they were down by 7 and Dallas had basically walked all over them.
Benny’s parents and sister were clustered in front of the television watching the game. It was a party atmosphere with a large bowl of potato chips and green onion dip. There was a big pitcher of lime flavored Kool-Aid on the table. It wasn’t a very great party, because the Cowboys were winning.
Tim and Benny were sitting off to the side not paying attention to the game. In their first pass through life, Tim would have been seated at home with his family while they engaged in Cowboy bashing. At the end of his first pass, he had become one of those who had turned off of all professional sports after having watched how the game of professional football had decayed into a spectacle, in which athletes became overpaid prima donnas. Ticket prices soared out of the reach of the average person, and the quality of play went downwards. At this time, there still was an element of a game left though. By 2017 it was obvious that the game was filler between commercials. That might have always been true, but in time it became in-your-face obvious.
Benny had never gotten into professional sports. He would watch some spectacle, but it didn’t thrill him. He did manage to enjoy watching Baseball, but that was more about watching the statistics at work than the outcome. It was odd hearing him say that the current batter facing the current pitcher had a 60% chance of striking out. In his first pass through life, he did win a few national competitions in picking outcomes of games based on statistics. He picked winners of games without ever having watched the players in any of the games.
At the moment, they were seated in a corner well away from the ‘huge’ 21 inch black and white console television that had been purchased in the 1960s. The television was a piece of furniture at the time and quite expensive. One didn’t go out and replace one until after it broke. By the 2000s, televisions had once again become furniture with 50+ inch screen televisions placed on television stands.
They were eating chips, drinking sodas, and earning dirty looks from Benny’s sister who wanted to know why they deserved sodas and she was stuck with Kool-Aid. She didn’t like the answer that Tim and Benny had bought the sodas so they could drink them. She wanted to know why they didn’t buy any for her.
The problem for Tim and Benny was finding something entertaining. Everything was a rerun. Television had already been labeled the idiot box, because of the inane programming and seeing the same bad shows for the second time was no better. There weren’t any new songs, they’d heard everything released to date and for the next forty years. Going to the movies was a major disappointment. The big movie this week was ‘The Trial of Billy Jack’. It had been sappy their first time through, and wasn’t worth a watch this time through.
It might seem strange, but restoring old cars had become their new pass time. It was something that was new, could consume a lot of time, and was interesting. Admittedly, the van and the F-150 weren’t really restorations since they hadn’t done anything with the body. Their goal had been a purely mechanical rebuild. Tim had experience with body work after having restored the cars after his divorce.
They didn’t even have the 1940 Ford truck to repair. They had been shocked at how mechanically simple it had been. They had pulled the engine in one afternoon. They dropped it off at the machine shop, and received a call two days later letting them know that it was done. They picked it up and brought it home. It took them a weekend to rebuild the transmission. The cab and bed had taken the most time to remove, but once that was done, they were able to strip the car down to the frame.
When they died in 2017 and 2024, they had become accustomed to the internet and could find whatever they wanted with a query on Google. Their great frustration in 1974 was the internet was still essentially two decades away. However, they were shocked to discover that junkyards had an informal telephone network that was almost as good as the internet, and the owners of the junkyards were better search engines than Google. A conversation with the owner of a junkyard would often result in a call a couple days later with the location of the needed parts.
Some of the body panels had been chewed up by rust, but the owner of the nearby junkyard told them about an identical model 1940 Ford truck. It had been wrecked in the front, but the rear body panels were in outstanding shape. One of the benefits of living in Oklahoma, was the dryness kept the body from rusting too badly. Any kind of care could keep a car body clear of rust for forty years. A Saturday drive over to Tulsa had brought in the body panels that were in great condition.
After a little mix and match, they had a restored body. All it needed was some tender loving care with sandpaper. It took five weeks of tender loving care – all of October and the first week of November. At the moment, everything was out to get painted. That included engine, transmission, frame, and body panels. They could hardly wait to see the result.
They were hoping to reassemble everything over the Thanksgiving holiday. It wasn’t that they expected to get it running that weekend. There was still a lot of work to do on it. For one, they realized that they weren’t going to be able to restore the bed until warmer weather came along. They were still searching for a good radiator, or at least one that wasn’t a bucket of rust.
“What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know.”
“I hate to say this, but I’m pretty bored.”
“Let’s go to the office.”
Benny thought about it for a moment and then said, “That’s not a bad idea. We haven’t really decided what we’re going to do with it.”
That wasn’t a totally accurate statement. They had contracted to have a Quonset hut built to serve as a garage. The company wouldn’t start construction until after the weather warmed up, which they were assured would be around March or April. The driveway had been leveled and covered with crushed stone.
They had hired a pest control specialist to deal with the snakes. The first thing the guy had done was clear all of the brush and tall grass from around the house. He then spent a week crawling around under the house removing reptiles. They happily wrote the check to pay the guy. They nodded their heads like bobble headed dolls, when the guy suggested monthly periodic inspections to check that none of the wiggle sticks had moved back.
They had contracted with an electrician to do something with the wiring so that they could have electricity. He had ripped out all of the wires and replaced them with new wires that were up to code. Although it was common practice at that time to use aluminum wires because of the high cost of copper, Benny had insisted on copper wire. In replacing the wires, the electrician had torn up the walls so that the wires wouldn’t be exposed.
A new toilet and sink had been installed in the bathroom. The original bathtub had been left in place. It was a cast iron clawfoot tub that was actually pretty nice in appearance. The porcelain finish could use a little restoration, but they weren’t concerned about it. They believed they didn’t need a bathtub in the office, but after a day spent on the tractor mowing grass, they discovered differently. The septic tank had been repaired so they could use the bathroom and the sink in the kitchen.
Benny announced, “Mom. Dad. Tim and I are going to the office.”
His sister rolled her eyes. She’d never seen it and was pretty sure that it was a fiction. If it did exist, she was sure that it was nothing more than a porto-potty on a small piece of scrub land. They were always talking like they were big shots, but she knew better. They mowed lawns, painted curbs, and were part-time maids. They were just manual labor.
Benny’s father said, “I’ve never seen your office. Can I go there and check it out?”
Benny and Tim exchanged looks. Tim said, “We’d love to have you.”
His mother asked, “When will you be back? I need to know when to start dinner.”
“I’m not sure,” Tim answered. He made a finger/thumb rubbing gesture to Benny and nodded his head in the direction of Benny’s mother.
Benny reached for his wallet and pulled out a twenty dollar bill. He handed it over to his mother and said, “Why don’t you and Lana have a lady’s night out? We’ll just stop and get something to eat on the way back.”
There was an awkward silence while Benny’s mother processed the phrase ‘Lady’s Night Out.’ It was a phrase with which she wasn’t familiar.
Finally, she said, “Sure. We can do that.”
Since the ladies need a car, they took the van. Benny’s father sat in the passenger seat, with Tim sitting on the floor in the back. The seating arrangements made it a little difficult to hold a real conversation. Once there, Tim took control of the tour.
Standing beside the van, Tim pointed to the end of the driveway. “Over there is where the Quonset hut will be built. It’ll be twenty by forty. It will have doors on the front and back with a dividing wall in the middle. The front will be a garage for restoring cars. The back will be storage for the farm equipment.”
“Why on earth would you divide it like that?”
“The tractor will be out in the field. It will get muddy and dirty, which it would track back into the building. We didn’t want to have all that dirt and crud where we’re restoring cars since we’ll be painting and stuff. Our first idea was to have two separate buildings, but the contractor convinced us to do it this way. We only have one foundation and one dividing wall. It saved us quite a bit of money.”
“That seems reasonable.”
“Let’s go into the house,” Tim said. While walking to the house Tim continued acting like a tour guide. “The house is a small two bedroom frame house built in the 1920s. The electricity was added to the building after it was built. That meant exposed wires everywhere. The wires were cloth insulated and a major fire hazard today. We had to replace the wiring so the interior is a mess.”
He opened the front door for Benny’s father. He took a few steps into the house and then stopped to look around. It was dark inside with the only light coming from outside. The walls were torn apart and there was debris on the floor next to the wall. The room was empty except for a standing lamp, a folding table and four chairs. The chairs had come with the table, otherwise they would have only bought two.
“I see what you mean about it being a mess.”
Benny went over to the standing lamp and turned on the light.
Tim said, “It’s a work in progress. It looks worse than it is. There has been progress. We went from having to stay in the dark to where we can have lights and heat.”
Benny came in from one of the bedrooms carrying a space heater. He set it on the floor, plugged it in, and turned it on. The wires of the space heater started to glow, throwing out its heat into the room, though it would be a while before the room would be comfortable.
Tim explained, “The house had a gas heater, but it was old and a fire hazard. We removed it and haven’t had a chance to replace it. I guess at one time they had a natural gas tank next to the house. We’re trying to decide what to do about getting better heating in here. I think we’ll go with the LNG option. It’s the quickest and cheapest heating solution we can find. Electricity will cost too much and there aren’t any gas lines.”
“It’s a reasonable solution. Lots of places in the area have LNG for heating and for stoves.”
The long white sausage shaped tanks were so common that one tended to overlook them. Once you did take notice of them, you saw that there were large gas cylinders next to houses all along the route to the building.
Tim opened the door to the bathroom. He flipped a switch, and an overhead light and fan came on. “The bathroom is functional. You might freeze your butt off using it right now, but it works.”
“Nice bathtub. Too bad it has those rust spots.”
“Yeah. We’re trying to figure out how to get it refurbished.”
“Lots of luck.”
Tim said, “We’ve got two bedrooms. Since we’re planning on using this building as an office, we figure this will serve as a waiting room, the front bedroom can be our office, and the second room as a storage space for files or whatever.”
“And the kitchen?”
“We’ll get a mini-fridge for it.”
Benny’s father frowned. “What’s a mini-fridge?”
“I mean a really small refrigerator. You know, something you might use in a small apartment.”
“I don’t think that’s what you meant.”
Benny and Tim exchanged a look. Pretending not to have heard Benny’s father, Tim said, “We’re going to keep the stove. It’s good for making coffee.”
“Don’t change the subject, boys. I’ve heard you talking. You use some strange words ... like ah ... gaggle ... no it’s googol. You miss googol. You wish you could googol something. I’d never heard of googol before you guys started talking about it. I looked it up. It’s ten to the hundredth power, but that’s not how you’re using it.”
Time and Benny looked at him without saying a word.
“Benny, you’re my son and I love you to death, but you are an odd duck. For fifteen years you don’t talk to anyone unless you have to or you’re making a smart ass remark that pisses everyone off. God, I don’t know how many times we’ve been called to school because you’ve smarted off to a teacher. Let’s face it, you can’t even talk nicely to your family. I don’t know how many times I’ve been tempted to knock your block off because of some smart-assed remark you’ve said to me.”
Tim grinned over at Benny who shrugged his shoulders. He couldn’t deny the charges. He tended to be blunt and sarcastic.
“Then one day you meet Tim and suddenly you’re a regular chatterbox. You and he are talking about all kinds of things. You’re going places and doing things. You’ve never gone places or done things in your entire life. You used to sit in your room reading books.”
Benny nodded his head thinking that was a fair assessment of his past behavior. He had spent most of his life in solitary pursuits.
“One other thing ... You don’t go from being a moderately smart kid to being a super genius overnight. It just doesn’t happen. Except ... you did it.”
Benny shrugged his shoulders again.
“Benny, what’s going on?”
Benny looked over at Tim.
“Don’t look at Tim. I’m asking you, what is going on?”
“So did I.”
“Boys, you’re making me angry.”
Benny said, “I died in 2017 from lung cancer, after having smoked for forty-five years. I had been bedridden for two months suffering in pain. I was on morphine, but it didn’t kill the pain. It just made it tolerable.”
Tim said, “I was with him when he died. His wife had called letting me know the end was coming. I drove from a small town outside of Dallas up to Columbia Missouri where he was living at the time. There was a total eclipse of the sun. The sun disappeared, Benny died, and then the sun came back.”