THE LEGEND OF ERNIE

During times of neighborhood trauma or emergency, such as flooding, as was the case here, equipment and generators are being put to use throughout the area. In some cases, you don’t get them back, not from any ill intent on the part of your neighborhood brethren, but just from the sheer volume of tools being shared and distributed. Sometimes this causes anal retentive men to throw tantrums, cry and scream uncontrollably and plot ways to burn houses down. Such was the case with my dear ol’ dad and neighbor Dick Schmidt. During my childhood, we had a major flood in the chicagoland area and the generators and the electrical cords were flying around like inhalers at Comic Con. The problem is trying to collect what is rightfully yours when the drama finally ends.

Six months later…

Mr. Schmidt was making a cabinet in his garage and motioned my father over to have a look. It is at that point that my father noticed HIS extension cord hanging neatly on the wall. You’re thinking all extension cords look alike. How could you tell the difference? Dad could tell because it had his initials stamped on it. This man labeled everything. He would buy underwear (from Sears Roebuck, of course) and race home and stencil little RDM’s (initialize) all over the crotch and the band. I assume he did this just in case he was ever approached by someone at gunpoint saying, “Okay, mister, off with the BVD’s…NOW!” Dad was also in the habit of naming his tools. This particular extension cord was named Ernie. Why? For Ernie Banks, of course, silly. Ernie was the Chicago Cubs hall of famer who was reliable, dependable and never broke down. Nevermind that Dick Schmidt was a carpenter and had almost as many extension cords as he had empty Old Style bottles, my dear father was incensed at seeing HIS extension cord hanging in Dick’s garage. But, rather than say, “Hey, Dick, look at that. This must have ended up with you after the flood,” he just stewed…and stewed. Like weeds to a garden, word spread quickly throughout the neighborhood that Schmidt was holding ‘Ernie’ hostage. My father became so enraged and let it fester to the point where we actually ended up moving. He claimed it was because my mother wanted a bigger backyard but we all know the real reason: that thieving, good for nothing, Dick Schmidt.

Twenty years later…

I’m in contact with Glenn Johnson, a boyhood friend, who still lives in the neighborhood. He called me to say that he was visiting his brother-in-law, in Portland, Oregon, and his eyeballs practically fell out of his head when he discovered my father’s extension cord at a garage sale! It was beat up, ratty and frayed AND it had the initials ‘RDM’ right there by the plug. Glenn wondered how it could have possibly ended up twenty five hundred miles away and how is could still even work? He bought it for fifty cents. I asked him to mail it to me and, after an extremely long pause, said, “No. I’m sorry. I can’t do that. It should really be displayed somewhere where all the dignitaries and important people can see it. I’m donating it to the Moose Lodge. If this thing could talk, imagine the stories it would tell, Bob.” “Then why did you even tell me you found Ernie if you’re not going to return him to me?”, I asked. With that, he reminded me that I just referred to an extension cord as a real, live person and that maybe I, like my dad, needed therapy. “This is the stuff legends are made of, man. To this day, realtors show both houses and bring up the big ‘Ernie’ feud. It’s incredible.”

So, after all these years, Ernie lives, so to speak, although the chances of my ever seeing him again are slim, unless I make a trip back to Illinois and visit the Moose Lodge on nickel beer night and steal it while everyone is captivated by Miss Sara doing her Karaoke rendition of Weekend in New England.

So, I caution all of you to take care of your stuff and lock it up, Stencil it if you must, but please try to resist the temptation to name it, lest you develop a reputation for being, um, weird. And, one other thing: Friends like Glenn you don’t need.

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