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June 2, 2009

Travels with Uncle Chet: Events are signs of our woes

COLUMBUS _ The silver pickup curved down the driveway, Uncle Chet driving and Cousin Bruce riding shotgun.

I turned on the gas burner to warm up the coffee, then went to the bedroom, looking for my wallet and the key to Hon's car.

``Told you he wouldn't be ready,'' said Uncle Chet as he crossed the threshold. ``This guy was born late, married late; never been on time a day in his life.''

``In here, looking for keys,'' I called. ``Help yourselves to coffee.''

"Find 'em quick; we gotta go. Bruce has a date.''

``From around here? Who?'' I emerged from the room, keyless, and began to rifle through jacket pockets.

``Girl I met on the Internet,'' said Cousin Bruce, who wore new jeans, a tan camp shirt and sunglasses. ``From Cherry Valley.''

``One of my favorite places,'' I said. ``What's her name?''

``She had a head injury like me, she's on disability like me and she sounds pretty cool, so I thought I'd meet her for lunch.'' He glanced at his watch.

``Where the hell is that key?'' I rechecked my own pockets.

``I'll ride back with you, and Bruce'll take the truck on his tryst,'' said Uncle Chet. ``Then he can swing by here and get me later.''

``Where could she have put that key?''

``By the refrigerator?'' Uncle Chet suggested, glancing at keys hanging off brass hooks beside it.

``Couldn't be,'' I said, but spun in that direction.

``Why not?'' he asked.

``Because that's where it belongs,'' I said, ``and we never put anything where it belongs. Although, wait; here it is, hiding behind the tractor key.''

``For the love of Mike,'' Uncle Chet shook his head.

``For the love of Bruce,'' said Cousin Bruce, and we spun out the door and jumped into the truck.

As we rolled down Route 8, Uncle Chet turned on the radio and an announcer said George Tiller, the abortion doctor, had been gunned down in a Wichita church.

``Unbelievable,'' I said.

``Unfortunately, very believable,'' said Uncle Chet. ``You don't have to go to Pakistan to find terrorists.''

``You've got to be crazy to be an abortion doctor in this country,'' said Cousin Bruce. ``People hounding you all day, following you home at night.''

``Must be money in it, too,'' said Uncle Chet as we rolled down a big hill on the way to Edmeston, ``because from the numbers you hear, the service is in high demand.''

We picked up the car at Tim's Garage, wished Bruce luck, then I drove Uncle Chet back to Columbus.

``How long you had this box?'' he asked me.

``Three years,'' I said.

``It's an '01?''

``A '99,'' I said, ``but I think I can drive it another three.''

``No doubt. It says Chevy, but it was built by Toyota,'' he said and we continued northwest for another 10 miles.

We parked by the kitchen door and as soon as I opened it, I reeled from the stench. The coffee pot was on fire, a small blue flame and thick black smoke billowing from the little window at the center of the top.

Bad words tumbled out as I shut off the gas burner, reached for pot holders to grab the flaming toxic waste.

``Guess this centerpiece isn't glass,'' I said.

``You've made the worst-smelling coffee ever,'' Uncle Chet pronounced and backed away from the stove. ``I've got to get out of here.''

Melting plastic had spattered the stove and range hood, and at the bottom of the pot, a big black lump was hissing. I grabbed the pot, opened the door, heaved and it clanked along the sidewalk.

``You've been drinking out of that contraption for what, five years?'' asked Uncle Chet.

``Probably. So have you, now and then.''

``Then we both need public health care, pronto,'' he said as he opened a kitchen window and sucked in a breath. ``Compared to your coffee, gasoline smells good, and you know how what a health food that is.''


Cooperstown News Bureau Reporter Tom Grace is traveling with his Uncle Chet, who he says is imaginary. Grace's column appears every other week.