LIaDVp.20: Old Men
September 14, 2004
It’s been sumbitchin cold out lately, as Roger or George might say, so we’ve been working sort of sporadically. Two days ago, Tim and I braved the freezing cold wind and rough waters to do a morning tour. I went along as a deckhand, given the rough conditions. It was one of my more fun boat trips actually. The beginning leg was rough and cold, bouncing the boat up and down and side to side, splashing the passengers with sheets of water as I tried to cover everyone up with plastic garbage bag ponchos. The middle section was calm and beautiful, with the last third turning into an adventure ride again. It was fun watching the looks on people’s faces as the whole boat swayed like a toy in a bathtub. I ran another tour with George and Kevin as interp.
Poor George was freezing. He’s a tiny 80-year-old guy, and the cold really affects him. Whenever it’s cold outside, he puts on a camoflauge jumpsuit, two jackets and cinches up his hood. Even then, he shields his face with his hand or part of his jacket, and his face turns purple from the nose at first and then spreading outward.
“It’s colder n … anything out there.”
George and I have been working together quite a bit lately.
“It got cold again, George,” I said one day on the drive home.
“Whet?” his raspy, almost whispering way of saying “What?” that he says in response to almost everything, even though his hearing is fine.
“I said It’s cold again,” I repeated.
“Yeah it is. I won’t be warm again until about a half hour.” He makes a drinking motion with his hand.
“Liquid blanket?” I asked.
“You bet. I think about that thick,” he indicates four fingers, for the number of shots of rum it’ll take in his Coke for him to warm up.
He sits under the shower for sometimes an hour and a half after a cold workday, with his Rum and Coke at his side.
“I think it’ll be about four today,” he says.
George has a girlfriend who works in the laundry room. She lives out in the RV camp while George lives in his dorm room. He comes home, showers, dresses up nice in his good cowboy boots and a western shirt and heads over to Mary’s. She cooks up steak for him and pours him Rum and Cokes. Mary can’t be much older than her 60s. George is 80. When George’s glasses broke, he had to take them in to Klamath Falls to get them repaired. While they were being fixed, he wore a pair of glasses he borrowed from Mary for about a week. They were wire frames with little flowery designs where the earpieces meet the lenses. Everyone had been mumbling about old George’s new Elton John look, but nobody really wanted to say anything. Then a day ago, he noticed the decor while we were riding back in the van.
“I didn’t notice all of this shit on here,” he said.
“Yeah George, we were commenting on how you’ve been looking rather festive lately,” Tim said.
“Shit, no wonder people have been giving me funny looks.”
The next day he had his new glasses.
I found out George has a daughter who is 55. She lives in Los Angeles, and is from his second marriage. She’s all messed up on drugs, and George hasn’t seen her in about 30 years. “I don’t mind the booze, but I can’t stand the drugs.”
Today, George, Roger and I had to load 14, 90-pound rolls of roofing material onto the tractor, down the 2-mile trail, onto a boat and then into Wizard Island’s boat house. We rigged up a makeshift cart to carry the stuff across the volcanic rock leading up to the boat house. There’s a generator-powered tow line that they use to pull the boats up along a railroad-tracked ramp and into the boat houses for the winter. We threw some boards across it to make sort of a motorized cart to carry the weight. It was awkward and rocking and shaking the whole ride up the tracks into the house. George stood at the top of the tracks, holding the generator’s button and watching it wobble on the way up.
“What the hell’s it bouncing for … It sure is bouncing… It’s bouncing… Boy look at it bounce… Quit bouncing goddamnit!”
Roger seems to be losing it lately. As the end of the season approaches, he’s been in charge of boat ops since Dan is in the hospital getting cancer treatment. The responsiblity is wearing on him, as he seems to want to go in 20 different directions and do 30 different things at a time. Dana thinks he’s lost his mind or had an aneurysm, since the other day he described having a sharp pain that started in his forehead, worked it’s way around his skull, went down his neck and on through his left arm. He said he could survive it, since once he had a tree fall on his head and crush in his skull. They put a plate in his head, gave him about 200 stitches and kept him in the hospital for days. He had lost pints of blood and his blood pressure was about half what it should have been when he got to the hospital.
The other day, there was a Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel in the boat shack and Roger threw a spool of waxed line at him. I heard George and Roger laughing by the door of the shack. Kira and Dana were just outside and the captains made a quiet “Shh” motion. George moved his boot to reveal a big puddle of blood on the floor.
“Roger just wanted to scare him, but he went ahead and scared him to death,” George said. “Those little guys have soft heads.”
The spool of thread whacked him in the skull, and squished it pretty good. George mimed a convulsion to imitate what happened. Roger picked the little guy up and chucked him into the rocks by the water.
“Maybe the little bums will see the blood and stay out from now on,” George said. “That could be you!”
“I hate those little bastards anyway. Always coming in here and stealling our lunches,” Roger said. You could tell he felt bad though.
The other day, a squirrel was dying after some teenage girls were tormenting it. Chris and Dana couldn’t put it out of its misery, so they went and got George. He whacked it with a little stick a few times before it stopped moving. “It was just a little stick. Those things have real soft heads.”
I stood on top of the Old Man the other day. The Old Man is a 30-foot mountain Hemlock log that somehow fell into the lake completely preserved by its own pitch, like an oiled telephone pole. It’s oddly weighted so that he floats around the lake completely vertical, drifting miles a day but never coming horizontal to the surface. He’s about three feet thick, and extends about five feet above water with the rest of his body underwater and covered with thick green moss. He’s been bobbing around the lake upright for more than 100 years.
“You’re not going to go stand on him are you?” Roger said when Dana asked if we could go see the old man in the skiff. We took the little boat out to the Old Man and got right up close to him. He’s incredible. You can see all the way down his body. His head looks like any old log, white and splintering some. Rangers used to stand on the Old Man’s head during boat tours, but now it’s become illegal. “Do you want to stand on him?” Dana asked. “Yes.” He didn’t really move too much. He’s so big and buoyant that he just sort of drifts and sways a tiny bit, spinning slightly under your feet. It’s a bizzare sensation to be adrift on a balancing 100-year old tree on a 2000-foot deep lake. Especially when Dana pulled the skiff away as I stood on top of him, pulling the boat around to pick me up, but essentially stranding me for a small time. I clung to the log’s tip and took a picture straight down, sure that either I would fall into the water or drop the camera all the way down, watching it plummet through a world-record setting 143 feet of underwater visiblility.
Today Roger and I had to drive the tractor up the trail, stopping at each manhole along the way so we can check the access points to the fuel line. A six-inch thick tube gravity drops the gasoline 800 feet down the edge of the rim, and several access points are covered with manholes along the way. I got to drive the tractor, despite my swearing that I never would. It’s a small tractor that tows a flatbed trailer that is slightly bigger than the tractor’s wheelbase and slightly smaller than the width of the trail, which switchbacks along the steep edge of the caldera’s wall.
Once a bad tractor driver lost the trailer over one of the edges, a wheel slipping over the edge and toppling the whole thing down a switchback. It detached from the tractor and fell down to the trail below, several dozens of feet and crashing into the rim’s face. It barely missed crushing a hiker below. I really didn’t want that to happen. It was actually pretty fun. I relaxed very quickly and sort of fell into a trance. You glance back toward your wheelbase now and then, but otherwise just sit back and steer, swinging around the tractor steering wheel with one hand to make a sharp switchback turn, making it wide enough so the trailer can follow, but not so wide that the above-mentioned happens. The way down is a little more exciting, as you have to let the low gear in the engine slow your descent so you have enough time to steer. Still, I think I did a pretty good job. I didn’t topple us into the caldera to certain death, so that’s good. So now I’ve driven a century-old floating log, a tractor, a small boat, a cargo van and I’m really hoping to get to steer the big boats sometime before I go.