Operator: Give Me a Line

By A.H. Watson

Talked to Bobby last night, it had been a while. We spoke of Earl and the hole his death had left in our hearts. Bobby said he wanted to talk to the Judge as well, but couldn't seem to catch him home.

"Hen, you remember the first time we ever spoke on the phone ?"

"Was it when you called Jonesboro and said you were coming down to spend a week that summer I lived in Jonesboro ?"

"Good memory for an old man, I was just thinking about the call and how the whole town was evidently on a party line. My mother made the call and handed me the phone - The Jonesboro operator came on the line and I asked to speak to you. I'll never forget that conversation !"

"You want to speak to 'little Henry or big Henry J?"


OK, Sugar, let me see if I can find him ? I'll try the store first. "Claude, Mary, is your grandson around?"

"Master Henry? This is Mary, someone from Atlanta is phoning you on the telephone."

We talked on for a while about going down to the creek bottom to hunt Japs.

Bobby had been in Jonesboro when that fancy group of scientists from UGA came to town to find out just why several acres of prime bird 'Habitat," (they called it) was completely devoid of birds.

They checked the soil. They checked the air. They checked the available "sustenance," (they called it). Hell, they even checked the magnetic strength and direction. Then they put out a 160-page study full of graphs and footnotes that came to the conclusion that the reason for the low bird density - beat the shit out of them.

But never did they ask the opinion of three skinny 9-year-olds with air rifles who stopped by daily.

Bobby said, somewhere one of them bubbas most likely worked on a new cure for the A-bomb.

Any time you are reminiscing with a close friend, like upon the act of stupidly killing birds, you are drawn to other dumb actions of your youth; things done that are so dangerous, it can only prove God's love of those with terminally low IQ.

Draw to your own mind's eye two things:

One, a picture of an above ground sewer line ? you remember, a large black pipe about six feet in diameter, supported every 25 feet or so by a brick pillow that holds the pipe some 6 feet off the ground.

Two, remember how cartoonists drew castle walls with parapets much like one of those scientific Georgia bird geniuses might design a saw blade.

Most of you will not know, but back just before the turn of the 20th century, electric power was much like computers at the turn of the 21st century. There was something new every day! Before you could pay for what you bought yesterday, there would be changes that created large advances both in power and cost.

Edison's first power plant was direct current! Can you imagine the mess that made not to mention the massive loss of efficiency?

Many of the wealthy installed power plant at their homes. The Candlers of Atlanta Coca-Cola fame, built their own dam; it provided hydro-electric power for one of their many estates.

The estate is now part of the Emory University, tax free, complex, along with some $200,000,000 the heirs wasted on a liberal school, that hates all things profitable!

I believe the mansion itself is used for the bigwigs of liberal education. They meet to plan the further destruction of education as taught to those who so heavily endowed their sorry asses.

I reminded Bobby that it was he who had organized our most famous near-death activity.

The summer following the bird massacre we were riding our bikes over the high trestle of the South Fork of Peachtree Creek. It was then that Bobby noticed the sewer line following the creek bed, then turning north away from the stream.

"Wonder where it goes, Hen? Let's see."

To that point in my life, I felt, being chased off trestles by trains would be most scary thing we would do. I might add, it was a habit I could have easily given up ? were it not for the honor of being the first to make a mad dash for the distant safety of land.

So down the trestle embankment we went at the wild speed one gathers when descending a steeply angled hill. I leaned my bike against the brick wall of the sewer, as I remember, but Bobby stood on top and asked that I hand his bike up to him.

"Henny, I think this pipe is wide enough to ride our bikes. Of course, at each pillar we will have to get off the bike and put it down on the other side, but it will take less time, and we will get there sooner."

The tops of the brick pillars were some 4 or 5 inches above the level of the pipe. That eventful day I would have never believed we would become so accomplished on that damn sewer. Toward the end, we could ride over that pillar never stopping ? well, at least most of the time.

"Henny! Wake up and hand me my bike. We need to get moving."

"Bobby, to get where? - We don't know where we're going?"

Learn to ride that damn pipe we did. A fractured collar bone for Bobby, a sprained wrist and ankle for me, but we were masters of the sewer. Even before we came upon the ultimate danger deep in the woods and further up the creek.Up the creek in the real, as well as the metaphorical, sense.

This danger at the end of the half-mile of sewer was sufficient to bring our crowd of friends at one time or another - at their own eager request.. The Judge never made it as he was a little older and had found girls, but Earl, Sam, and the cutter Dick, all took their chances and lived to later wonder at all the chances we took for no apparent gain.

Before describing our personal Rubicons waiting at the end of the sewer pipe, allow me to list the dangers we faced but never considered even after a myriad of falls from the pipe.There is the obvious - of breaking one's neck ? This was almost achieved on several occasions.

There were 'snakes galore' - to paraphrase old "shaken not stirred, 007, including three poisonous varieties Rattlesnake, Cottonmouth, and Copperhead.

But there was one item that could have killed any of us on any occasion we fell. It was so insidious that it still makes me sweat. Until I talked to Bobby, I had repressed the thought for years.

On one of our last forays to the end of the sewer pipe Earl had come with us. He always walked the pipe rather than rode. Even walking, Earl would fall from time to time. It is strange looking back. Bobby went on to play in the band and participated in no athletics in high school. Earl was State Gymnastic Champion three years and as a junior in high school missed going to the Olympics by one - one hundredth of a second in the rope climb.

Earl was master of the rings, the parallel bars, and so good on the high bar other contestants would stop to watch him do giant circles with one hand then switch to his other before doing a triple-flip with a half-twist landing on both feet. Yet walking off the mat he might fall on his face! I gave up shooting one on one baskets with my buddy. He hated it and the ball couldn't take it either. Throw him the ball telling him he just HAD to catch it and it would come back flat as a democrat's head ? every ounce of air squeezed out.

One of our last trips Earl slipped off the pipe. It wasn't hard but enough to drive him to his knees. Twenty times Bobby and I had fallen in all that mess of vines and bamboo. Twice my back or face had been the first thing to hit the ground. It was the same with Bobby.

Earl let out a curdling scream, which, from the most stoic man I was to ever know, turned out to be.

"Ouch!??. Durn, I think I hurt my leg."

Bobby and I lifted Earl to his feet. There was a long cut running from his bony kneecap to about three inches up his thigh. Thank goodness it was a surface wound and had done no major damage to either Earl's leg or his blood supply.

I remember looking down to find what exactly had hurt my friend. Sticking up from the damp soil was a five-inch bamboo tube cut at a steep angle with Earl's blood still working its way slowly toward the ground.

I broadened my view to find on both sides of the pipe about twenty such pointed stakes protruding from the ground, unnoticed for all the other vines that made up the undercover below the pipe and extending about 12 feet on each side of the pipe right of way.

There were other small bushes cut at an angle. By far the most dangerous and most prevalent, were the bamboo shoots sharpened to a fighting point. In fact, they were exactly what we had heard the nasty Japs used on our captured soldiers to make the dying of longer duration, and more painful.

Bobby laughed as we discussed all the stakes that missed spearing our gizzards. By how much they missed, we never knew. I guess in the long run that is best. But, we did find out that the stakes were created when the local chain gang used brush hooks to trim the right-of-way once every summer so the Water Dept. could inspect the pipe for leaks.

I told Bobby. "You know Bobby that sign out where the pipe started on our side of the track ? That was the last warning sign in my lifetime that actually meant what it said."




"I don't know Hen. The 'Warning 10,000 VOLTS' ain't bad."

"Then there was that time we visited the Grand Canyon and that hand lettered sign that said, "Please do not step past this line to have your picture taken overlooking the Canyon? UNLESS YOU WISH TO JOIN THOSE THAT HAVE."

I was gonna tell you about the truly stupid and dangerous thing we did long before Earl hurt himself or Bobby and I broke a few body parts learning to ride the pipe. Hell, It was even before Roberta had body slammed Bobby and me long enough to become the only woman? ever, to make the trip.

That first day we followed the pipe and the flood plain to the upper section of Peachtree Creek. Across the creek was a ridge some 80' high. Our pipe crossed the creek on its brick legs and disappeared into the hill. But miracles of miracles there, 200' above the pipe stood a 50' abandoned dam. The dam had been built to provide electricity for the Candler Estate in 1899.

If you take the mental image of a castle wall with parapets and increase the size of the open niches in the wall to about 10 feet wide and the sides some 6 feet high, you will have the profile of the upper section of the dam. Across the top of the open niches there once had been a heavy oak walkway and expensive heavy brass railings along the steep side.

The walkway had rotted and been swept away long before our arrival. Iron doors, that closed the open niches, created an additional 6-foot of water head. Like the walkway, the doors had rusted out long ago; most likely they had fallen to the bottom of the pond behind the dam.

There were six 10' holes in the upper face of the dam. To cross the dam it was necessary to let yourself down the side of the parapet and drop to the narrow 5-inch ledge that formed the top of the openings. Most days the first four of the openings were dry on top and retaining balance was the main problem - not the slippery footing its self.

After negotiating the first four battlements, at a moment you felt secure in both your manliness and superiority; not in a crushed heap at the bottom of the dam, your individual Masada arose.

You find yourself only twenty feet from accomplishing the goal of "reaching the other side."

The last two opening in the top of the dam were always wet. They allow the run of the creek to pass over their top. In doing so, they support the slickest moss found this side of a mountain trout stream.

I said earlier that the top of the dam proper was about 5-inches wide, that is a misnomer. On the dry sections you had about 5-inches of concrete where your feet could have gotten purchase.

On the last two sections there was no place to get traction. In fact, the top of the dam actually sloped away from the dam at about 160 degrees. If you type an "0" then look at the slope from 12 to 3 it will give you an example of the shape of the front portion of the dam.

Bobby smiled back when we discussed our attempt to cross those last two sections our first trip to the dam. The water had been a little high that day. Both of us in smooth, rubber bottomed, tennis shoes had been swept from our tenuous grip on the dam once we released our hands from the brick pillar. Bobby, with better coordination, threw himself back into the pool above the dam and returned to the dry section behind him. He laughed and reminded me that he had been standing right behind me as I fell over the front of the falls toward the raceway pool below the dam.

Two random acts saved me from serious injury that day. The spillway was slick reducing the amount of rug rash my back and legs received in the rapid fall to earth.

The second act had been the volume of rain. The next time we came back to the dam the weather had been dry for several days. The bottom of the dam under the spillway had been filled with granite stones the size of footstools to keep the spill from eating the base of the structure away.

My falling - feet first, legs sticking straight out, pointing down stream, with my fanny hitting the water first, its depth cushioning the fall, had saved my young, careless butt, from a major hurtful lesson.

Bobby reminded me that Saturday we had just seen "Knock on Any Door." The movie stared the greasy John Derek. He somehow later wedged that massive failure into marrying the sexy babe in the movie "10." His only line in the movie had been "Die young and have a good looking corpse."

It was Bobby's contention that I almost made the grade that day. He just laughed and laughed.

We spent hours and hours, Bobby and me, trying to devise a way to cross those last two open gates while still looking cool, not like ducks crossing the road chased by an 18 wheeler.

Over time our methods improved and we made it across most of the time, or managed to arrange to fall back into the pool behind the dam, rather than take "Henny's Ride" - as it was beginning to be called.

Bobby and I had just begun to kid each other about Roberta's trip to the dam, when the dogs jumped on the bed and started licking.

As you get older it becomes harder to separate present from past. Sleep makes that even more complicated. Soon I sorted my realities. It was the coming back that was difficult - even sad.

You see ? Bobby died 14 years ago this coming spring.

2008 A.H. Watson, all rights reserved.

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