Trip of a Lifetime
By Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest
A Note to the Reader
It's late March, 2001. Ed's in Albany at a book fair, and Brenna's
just gotten home from a day on
Snyder's Pond. It was her first trip of the year and she had a
great time, but when a bungee cord let go on the drive home, she
nearly lost her kayak. Now Jack's promised to teach her how to tie
things down so they stay put. The story continues.
December 19, 2000
Ape Crapaud peered around the big
display of decorative moldings. He was watching two people deep in
conversation next to the large spools of rope and cordage over by the
counter at the custom shop. They were a funny-looking couple, too. A
tall, white-haired guy and a younger lady with short, brown hair. He
leaned closer, trying to hear what they were saying. It was noisy in
the store. Saturday morning was a busy time at Deane's Good-Deal
Hardware. They opened early and added extra staff to serve the crowds
of lawn rangers gearing up for spring chores. That's where Ape came
in. He'd just retired after thirty years with the county highway
department. Time hung heavy on his hands. He wasn't what you'd call a
self-starter. Ape missed the regular schedule. He missed getting away
from the wife for nine-ten-eleven hours a day. He missed being able to
borrow stuff from the maintenance shed. That was a big one, all right.
He had a garage full of borrowed stuff, some of it nearly thirty years
old. Some of it pretty valuable. Ape missed his old job something
He even missed being called Ape. The wife never called him anything
but Chuck, and that hurt more than he could say. It was kinda funny,
really. He'd hated the nickname at first, but now it'd gotten so it
felt more like his real name than, well, his real name did. He'd had
it for twenty years. Got it right after he'd been promoted to foreman,
when an angry highway engineer had come out from the county garage to
fix the screw-up he'd made of a culvert installation and had
christened him on the spot.
It had been a memorable name-day. The whole crew had been standing
around when that snotty-nosed college boy with a tie and a
pocket-protector tore into him. "Jesus H. Christ!" the kid had
screamed. He'd yelled so loud they probably heard him back at the
county garage. "You half-wit SOB. You ain't got no more sense than an
ape. And you look just like an ape, too. Now get outta my
sight, you friggin' retarded ape. Jesus!" And the engineer had turned
his back on Ape like he wasn't there and started shouting orders at
the man on the digger.
That hadn't been an easy thing to live down, especially because he
did look a lot like an apea pasty-faced ape with a
straggly beard. He had a stooped, shambling walk, and his arms hung
down a good six inches further than they should have. The guys on the
crew picked up on the nickname right away, of course. They started
calling him Ape, too, first behind his back and later to his face.
Funny thing, though. He'd gone through hell for a couple of years, and
then it had started to seem right, somehow. The old guys on the crew
retired. The new guys didn't know nothing. And that was all right with
Ape. He was the big gorilla now, and he liked to imagine the guys
thought he had a whole harem of females, just like on the nature shows
on TV. Ape Crapaud. When he was driving his county pick-up, Ape was
King of the Road.
But now he was retired, and a kid no more than twenty-five years
old had his brand-new Chevy pick-up with the county seal on the
driver's door, and nobody called him Ape any more.
Not until he got this new job, that is. Clerk in the fasteners and
fittings section. Only half-time now, but he'd move up. It was great.
All sorts of stuff to borrow. Better yet, he'd told everybody to call
him Ape. And they did. The King was back.
But first he had a little problem to solve. His borrowing was
attracting attention. This was something new. Ape had borrowed stuff
from the county for thirty years and no one had ever said anything
about it. Everybody borrowed stuff. The janitors pinched toilet rolls.
The county's executive officer took a new computer home one weekend
and forgot to return it. Nobody noticed Ape's borrowingor, at
least, nobody cared.
Deane's Hardware was different, though. The monthly inventories had
already picked up big stock shortfalls in fasteners and fittings. The
owner was thinking about putting in closed-circuit video surveillance.
Ape wasn't happy about this. But maybe, he thought, if he nabbed a
shoplifter or two, he could talk his boss out of putting in the
cameras. So he was keeping a careful eye on the oddly-matched couple
over by the reels of rope. They looked different, for one thing. They
weren't normal people. The tall guy dressed like he did all his
shopping at the Salvation Army. The lady was wearing high rubber
boots. Weirdos. No doubt about it. Wait for them to pocket something
and then call in the boss. That ought to put a stop to all this talk
about cameras. Maybe even get him a raise.
Meanwhile, Jack and Brenna stood among the towering displays of
bulk rope and cord. They talked quietly, stepping aside from time to
time to allow other customers to squeeze by. A speaker mounted high on
the wall broadcast one country hit after another, punctuated by the
running commentary of the WBAM disk-jockey. Jack reached out and
grabbed the end of some three-strand polypro line in one gnarled fist,
held it out toward Brenna, and said, "See this stuff, here? Plastic
rope, I call it. Slicker 'n
." He remembered where he was, just
in time. "Slicker 'n snot. Won't hold a knot worth a damn." And he
tied a figure-eight in the end by way of demonstration, drawing it up
tight and then letting go. The knot started to open up right away.
"Don't get me wrong," Jack continued. "There's nothin' better than
good, sound line for lashing things down. Those rubber bands you used
on your little boat don't come close to doin' the job." He shook his
head. "Now this stuff here"he pulled a length of three-strand
nylon off a big spool"this stuff's what you want. It'll hold a
knot real good, and you can splice it easy, not like that
braided stuff." He pointed over to another spool labeled "yacht
braid," and then continued, "Course nylon's not manila, but
His voice trailed off, and he looked around for some manila rope.
Finding it, he pulled a length off the reel, twisted the end to unlay
the strands, looked closely at the fibers, frowned, and rolled it back
on the reel. "Junk, that's what that is. Jes' can't get good manila
nowadays," he said sadly. Then he added, his face brightening, "But
nylon'll do ya for most things. Stretchy stuff, sure. Don't want it
for riggin', but for most other things it's not so bad. Soaks up the
The two friends continued to examine the rope, neither one aware of
Ape's constant scrutiny. At one point, Jack picked up a plastic fid
from an adjoining shelf, looked at it briefly and than stuck it
absent-mindedly in his pocket. Ape smiled. He had his man!
Under Jack's watchful gaze, Brenna was now tying a bowline in a
length of 3/8" nylon three-strand she'd pulled off a spool. It wasn't
going well. As she often did when she was in a hurry, she made the
first loop the wrong way round. Then, when she tried to snug it down,
it collapsed into an overhand knot. Jack's patience was at an end.
Before Brenna could try again, he'd grabbed the rope out of her hands.
"You jes' watch me, girl!" he said.
The demonstration didn't last long. Jack formed a bight in the
line, holding the free end in his right hand, pointing away from him.
He brought that end down across the other part"That's the
standing part," muttered Brenna to herselfand twisted it down
and around, forming a loop through which the end protruded, again
pointing away from him. Now he wove the free end under the main part
of the line and tucked it back through the already-formed loop. He
pulled the knot tight, held it up for Brenna to see, and then undid
"OK, girl," he said. "Your turn now." He handed the end of the rope
In her mind's eye, Brenna ran through Jack's deft movements. "No
reason why I can't do that," she thought. And she did. Grinning from
ear to ear, she showed her bowline to Jack. "Do I pass?" she asked.
A loud crash sounded behind them. Spinning round, they saw Ape
sprawled over a toppled rack of wood moldings. The display stand had
caught the edge of a bin of #4 flathead screws on its way down.
Hundreds of screws were now rolling across the floor. Ape scrambled to
his feet. From the other side of the counter at the custom shop, Craig
Deane looked up. Ape was down on all fours now, chasing wood screws
around the aisle. Craig worked hard not to laugh. He raised the flap
on the counter and walked over to the fasteners and fittings aisle.
"Hey, Brenna! Haven't seen you for a while. How's things?" he
called out in passing, on his way to speak to Ape. That done, he
turned back to where Jack and Brenna stood. "Ape's kinda klutzy," he
said. "Sorry 'bout the excitement. So, how's Ed?"
"No problem, Craig," replied Brenna. "Ed and me are both fine.
Getting ready for a big canoe trip, in fact. You know Jack?" she
asked. Then, without waiting for an answer, she made the
introductions. "Jack Van Dorn. Craig Deane." The two men shook hands.
"Jack's teaching me the ropes," Brenna joked, giggling at her own wit
Craig smiled. He always smiled at customers' jokes, however many
times he'd heard them. It cost nothing to be nice, after all. "Rope,
eh? Sell a lot of twine. Buy a lot of it myself. My wife's always
making macrame stuff. Goes through millions of feet a year, seems
like. Don't sell too much of this bulk rope, though."
While Craig was talking, Jack pulled the plastic fid out of his
pocket. "This the only one you got?" he asked.
"'Fraid so," said Craig. "Don't have much call for them, either.
Course we can special order one for you."
Jack shook his head and replaced the fid on the shelf. "No need,"
he said. "I'll just get myself a billet of hickory and whittle one
They talked for a while longer. Then Brenna checked her watch.
Nearly ten. Time to open the shop. With Jack's nodded OK, she picked
up a half reel of quarter-inch, three-stand nylon rope, a spool of
waxed nylon twine, and a tube of heavy needles, along with a couple of
yards of 10-oz. treated canvas. When they left to go over to the
check-out, Ape was still chasing screws under the shelving units. He
didn't look up as they passed.
Walking home with their purchases, Jack and Brenna stopped at
Shirley's for four of her World Famous cinnamon buns. Back at the
shop, Jack carried the new rope and the other stuff through to the
work room while Brenna opened the till and sat down behind the long
counter. Soon she smelled brewing coffee. Jack must have decided that
a fresh pot would go well with Shirley's buns, she thought. Looking
out the shop window, Brenna noticed that a gentle rain was starting to
fall. Before long, it was bucketing down. Not a good day for walk-in
trade, Brenna concluded, and she was right.
Still, the time passed quickly. Jack tested Brenna on the bowline,
figure-eight, reef knot, and clove hitch. Then, when he was satisfied
with her progress, he showed her a couple of new ways to tie the
bowline, including a tricky one she realized she'd seen a logger use
in some movie, long ago. It starred Paul Newman, she remembered, but
try as she might she couldn't think of the name of the flick.
Jack interrupted her reverie. "Gonna show ya the trucker's hitch,"
he said. "That taut-line hitch of yours is all right for tent guys,
but you need somethin' better when you hafta secure a load."
Jack uncoiled one of the 25-foot lengths of Goldline that Brenna
had used to tie down the kayak on her trip to Snyder's Pond. With an
easy flick of his wrist, he threw the rope over a heating pipe that
hung suspended from a ceiling bracket above the counter. Next, he gave
one end to Brenna to hold, and passed the other under the heavy,
cast-iron foot of the old-fashioned radiator. Holding the free end of
the rope in his right hand, with his left he formed two parallel
bights in the part of the line running from ceiling to floor. One
bight pointed down. The other pointed up. He twisted the
upward-pointing bight over and around the standing part of the line
and poked it back through the newly-formed loop, just like he was
tying a bowline. Then he threaded the free end through the resulting
noose, pulled it tight, and secured it with a couple of half-hitches.
"See that?" he asked. "Now give me that end you got there and you
try it. Careful you don't pull too hard, though," he said, rolling his
eyes up toward the ceiling. "You're multiplyin' your force, see? You
tighten down too much, and you'll most likely yank that pipe right off
its bracket. Don't want ta have ta do any more emergency repairs like
the one I did in the back room, do I?" And he chuckled.
Brenna copied Jack's moves and made the hitch work on her first
try. The rest of the day slipped away pleasantly, with Jack showing
her the sheet bend and gasket coil after lunchto complete her
schooling, he said. Then he went to his apartment to read, while
Brenna minded the store till closing time at five.
The rain continued all through the next day. Brenna practiced her
new repertoire of knots and hitches, and Jack gave her what he wryly
called the "college course," showing her how to whip and splice lines.
By the time Ed turned into the drive late Sunday evening, Brenna was
almost convinced she could pass for able seaman. It was a good
She met Ed at the back door, hugging him to her. She was bursting
to tell him about the snapper on Snyder's Pond and show him all the
knots she'd learned. For his part, Ed was tired and hungry, but he was
mighty pleased with the sales he'd made. He got Jack and Brenna to
give him a hand taking the book crates out of the rented van and
bringing them into the shop. Ed noted with satisfaction that they were
a lot lighter than they'd been when he'd left on Friday. The last load
he carried in wasn't a book crate, though. It was big cardboard box
with "Old Sarge's Super Surplus" stenciled on the side.
Up in their second-floor apartment, his mouth watering as he
smelled the pungent steam wafting from the pot of chili simmering on
the stove, Ed opened the box and showed Brenna his newly-purchased
treasures. Two pairs of NATO wool pants, two pairs of khaki shorts
formerly worn by French Legionnaires, two broad-brimmed bush hats, and
two head nets. A rubber-handled diver's knife with a saw-tooth back
edge and a profile that looked a lot like an old rigging knife. There
was even a pair of leather combat boots in size 13 for Jack.
"Won't he be pleased!" Brenna exclaimed when she saw the boots,
thinking about Jack's old and much-repaired work shoes. Then she saw
what looked like a big coil of heavy wire in the bottom of the box.
"What's that?" she asked.
"A real bargain, Brenn!" Ed replied proudly. "And I'll bet it's
something you hadn't even thought of. One hundred and fifty feet of
genuine GI climbing rope. We're going to need a lot of rope, you
." His voice trailed off, all but drowned out by Brenna's
howls of laughter. It was a good minute before she stopped. She
stumbled over to the bed and sat down, still shaking with
barely-suppressed glee. Then, while she was wiping her streaming eyes
on her sleeve, Ed asked, "What the hell's matter? I got a great price
on that rope, you know."
"I'm sure you did," said Brenna. "And never mind what's the matter.
I'll tell you later. Now come over here and kiss me."
To be continued
Copyright © 2000 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.