As anyone who hasn’t spent the last month under a rock knows, the COVID-19 coronavirus is a big deal to the global economy, and governments have taken a number of potentially disruptive measures to contain it. The aim of this post is to look somewhat closely at the likely impact to the economy of this famously unstable country, and to briefly weigh the policy actions of the Alberto Fernández administration against their costs.
A little context
Argentina and economic collapse, name a more iconic duo. In the past decade, the inflation rate went from the twenties to the fifties, and 2019 had the highest recorded figure in almost thirty years: 53.8%. The country has not grown for two consecutive years in an entire decade, and official figures for most relevant variables, including unemployment and production, are unreliable (to put it kindly) since the official statistics agency was intervened by politicians and pretty much faked its data for ten years.
In 2015, the reign of a faction of Peronism (the dominant political ideology/party in Argentina, an economically left, nationalistic, autarchic, anti-globalization movement) known as Kirchnerism, with more ties to the hard left and more socially progressive than the rest of the party, came to a close after 12 years of dominance: their prefered Presidential candidate, Daniel Scioli (an unpopular, unexciting, uncharismatic Governor who lost an arm in a boat racing accident) narrowly lost a runoff to the center-right Mauricio Macri, the mayor of the country’s capital. Macri ran on a platform of change (his coalition of centrist parties was literally named Cambiemos
, or Let’s Change) and promised to lower taxes, reduce regulations, open the economy, and lead Argentina into a new era of market-based prosperity. This did not pan out: after a rocky first year, where the lifting of currency controls and sky high raises in public utilities led to a 40% inflation rate, nearly 15 point above the previous year’s, 2017 looked bright: GDP grew, wages increased, inflation returned to its prior levels and seemed to be going down, and the government scored a double-digit win in the midterms.
2018 was even more promising, until May: following a series of policy and communications missteps by the government, investors became more bullish on the nation’s ability to repay its significant dollar-denominated debt; when the Fed raised rates in May, capitals bled out of the country and the peso began depreciating for months, more than doubling from 19 pesos per dollars to over 40 by the end of the year; the economy took a beating, with GDP collapsing and completely erasing the previous year’s gains. 2019 was tougher: Macri became, obviously, increasingly unpopular - but still stood a chance because his likeliest rival, the divisive and corrupt former President and sitting Senator Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, appeared to be an even less palatable candidate - and voters going to moderate Peronist economist Roberto Lavagna looked more like Macri than Kirchner supporters. In an unexpected, risky gambit, Kirchner picked her former Chief of Staff, the little known and more moderate Alberto Fernández (no relation, it’s a common surname) to run for President, with her being his running mate. This bet paid off: Fernández united the entire Peronist party (no easy task, since Kirchner wasn’t particularly popular with Peronist Governors) and surpassed all expectations: while polling had him in dead heat against Macri, the high number of undecided voters made the race extremely volatile. After two hours of delays, the results of the national primaries (basically a trial election) came in: Fernández had beat Macri by nearly 20 points, 49 to 32, and was, by all intents and purposes, the next President. The markets did not take this well, since the winning candidate was notoriously vague and tight lipped in his positions: in a single day, stocks and bonds plummeted by 55%, and the peso depreciated another 33% - to 63 pesos. Macri performed better in the October elections, getting 40% to Fernández’s 48% due to higher turnout, but still lost. 2019 was another bad year: GDP shrank by 2.2%, unemployment soared to 9.7% (it later came down to 8.9%), and poverty rose from 25.4% (a historic low) in 2017 to 35.4% in the first semester; the only positive figures are the fiscal deficit, which went from 4% in 2015 to 0.5% in 2019, and the trade balance, which reversed sign and was an astounding 19 billion surplus; the current account deficit was reduced from a staggering 31 billion in 2017 to 3.4 billion in 2019, the lowest since 2012 and mostly caused by the positive trade and service balances.
The Fernandez administration, meanwhile, surprised in its moderation: efforts have been made to somewhat maintain fiscal balance, while also increasing welfare payments without committing “populist excesses”, to somewhat speak. The fiscal balance has been weak, though, with Economy Minister Martín Guzmán only vowing a surplus in 2023 and returning to the much dreaded “gradualism” of the Macri era. Fernández seemed mostly interested in one issue: restructuring the country’s substantial debt (nearly 90% of GDP), which included a record breaking program by the IMF and the products of a previous restructuring, in 2005, after the country defaulted in 2002 (it would partially default again in 2014) - Guzmán himself is an academic focusing on the issue, and a disciple of the “heterodox” Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz at Columbia.
The healthcare system
Argentina’s healthcare system is complex, heterogenous, and very poorly supervised - public health is not mentioned in the Constitution, putting it under the purview of provinces, except for some compromises between jurisdictions to make it run smooth.
Considering the demand side of healthcare, the age structure of Argentina is not particularly concerning: only 15% of the population is over 60, and, on average, 88.5% of those over 60% have some kind of health insurance. Speaking of, 60% have any kind of insurance, according to census data - higher with age. Although 35.4% of the country lives in poverty, this number plummets to around 10% in older groups - providing a better safety net for the most vulnerable groups (children, by comparison, have a 52.5% rate). The country is only worryingly densely populated around the nation’s capital, the City of Buenos Aires, whose metro area comprises 13 million people and an expanded definition is inhabited by almost 20.
On the provider side, the country’s hospitals are mostly run by the provinces, except a handful in the orbit of the national government. According to the government
, the country spent 9.8% of GDP on healthcare - 6.6% by the public sector, and 2.8% by private companies. The country seems to have a low number of physicians, hospital beds, and nurses
- yet the larger provinces with a higher number of cases seem better prepared. Still, the glaring inequalities in the country make it clear that being ill in the wealthy City of Buenos Aires or the oil producing, sparsely populated Santa Cruz would be highly preferable to Chaco or Misiones. Another notable issue is the disparity between systems: private insurers (“prepagas”) offer extremely high quality care, as does PAMI, Argentina’s equivalent to Medicare (it is, in fact, a state-run public insurer for the elderly). The problem comes with the public system, which is much higher quality in richer provinces, especially in the less populated Patagonia.
The country, despite not being at such apparent risk, has taken measures extremely early: a full quarantine was announced roughly 20 days after the first confirmed case. The main situation is the country has only really tested those who either traveled abroad recently or were in close contact to those who did - meaning that official statistics of 500 infected, 8 dead aren’t particularly meaningful, and the number of tests administered isn’t publicly available.
Employment, poverty, and consumption
The country being under a quarantine poses a significant risk: 35% of the labor force works in the informal sector, and another 15% is self-employed. This means that, under a lockdown, nearly half of the population wouldn’t receive any income. The Catholic University of Argentina's Observatory for Social Debt
(sworn enemies of mine, if you’ve read my previous post on poverty) estimates that 32% of people don’t receive any kind of formal salary, and that just two thirds of those families don’t even collect welfare checks - so 10% of homes will be deprived of all forms of income during a lockdown. The government has tried to mitigate this: bonuses for welfare recipients and the poorest retirees were announced, a $10.000 bonus for the unemployed,and some self-employed people was enacted, and the steps have been taken to ensure that people don’t lose access to basic necessities: a temporary ban on eviction and loss of utilities, a freeze on housing credits and rent, and price controls. The Social Development Minister, Daniel Arroyo, recently declared that 11 million people are receiving nutritional assistance
, 3 million more than before - and 3.5 million of whom are children.
The consulting firm IDESA
paints an even bleaker picture: they claim 45% of all Argentinians live off of informality, meaning the quarantine, on this basis alone, could deal a crippling blow to nearly a majority of families. Others have gone further: a recent report claims
that 5.5 million people are at “very high” risk of losing their jobs based on their employment status (self employed of informal) and at slightly lower risk depending on the sector they work in, even if they are registered. The government responded to this by banning firings and suspensions by decree
, which will obviously negatively affect job creation (which is at historic lows anyway, according to Ministry of Labor data
Consumption has also been negatively impacted, since the incomes of those newly unemployed will obviously decrease; some retailers have experienced decreases of 50% in sales, and many have estimated that people simply won’t be able to afford their living expenses or their credit card bills (which were recently postponed until after the quarantine is over).
Economic activity and output Economists
estimate that each day of the quarantine reduces GDP by 1 to 1.4 billion, although there is a massive caveat - their projections are all based on national holidays and workers’ strikes, which are quite different because they are both scheduled in some advance, aren’t particularly long (the longest national holiday lasts about 3 days), and national holidays in particular have much higher “entertainment” (cinemas, theaters, restaurants, vacations, etc.) spending than usual.
The aim of government policies so far seems to be to mitigate the loss of income on poor families, while not spending too much - the public sector has an extremely limited margin of action, given that current commitments make up 0.6% of GDP with revenue in free fall due to lower activity (VAT, income tax, and export taxes have been particularly deteriorated lately). The demand shock to some sectors will be highly negative: tourism, entertainment, non-basic goods, etc. As you can see here
,the largest sectors of the economy (Industry, construction, and retail) will be hardest hit.
Starting with construction
, things are not looking good: work has ground to a halt, while it has already had its worst performance in decades. The sector also has a very high demand for labor, some of the highest rates of labor informality, and is the third largest sector of employment (360k workers in December) which makes it a ticking time bomb of lost income that has to be addressed as soon as possible - and the government has announced new credits for construction, and a 100 billion public works plan. The sector has already registered its lowest employment levels ever
this year, and in an omen for things to come, the massive multinational company Techint has already laid off 1500 workers
based on estimates that their profits in April will be 0.
Regarding industry, after it has the worst indicators for production in since 2002, only the food and pharmaceutical industries seem to be trending upwards - and they only account for a third of industrial workers, which make up themselves a fifth of all workers.Industrial Union figures claim that just 20% of manufacturers are currently active
- and that the entire sector is having difficulties paying salaries or acquiring components. Car manufacturers have shut down production until April, and expect to sell fewer than 200 thousand units this year; and the electronics sector has followed suit. While industry does not have the same level of informality construction does, some issues may arise. The main complication will be supply chains, since many key components for industrial production are imported - and most major manufacturers (notably China) are dealing with the aftermath of their own coronavirus responses. And lower projections for growth in Brazil could especially hurt the automotive industry, where 50% of units sold are destined for the Latin American country
, and whose growth has a large impact on Argentina’s manufacturing sector (note: even if the article is old, it still very clearly illustrates the close relations between the countries).
Retail is the biggest problem: after a 30% surge in sales in the days leading up to the lockdown
(mostly in large chain supermarkets and wholesalers), sales collapsed
as people became more frightened to leave their homes: restaurants have reported a 55% drop in sales, bakeries an 80% decrease, and 70% of small shops have already shut down
until people are back in the street, since their sales decreased by 50% as well. Retailers in most sectors express concern, and most restaurants, bars, and “proximity businesses” (drugstores, corner shops, and small convenience stores known as “Chinese supermarkets” because their owners are generally Asian immigrants) have seen their income go from a steady stream to a small trickle, mostly due to online shopping and home deliveries - amd 20% of these smaller stores have closed their doors for the duration of the quarantine
. Small business owners
have already expressed their concern with the situation, with most expecting steep losses in revenue and some even reducing their staff. The sector is the second largest employer in the economy, with nearly 20% of the workforce as well, and a retail recession, so to speak, could collapse into a vicious circle
where a crash in demand is reflected in sales, which forces firms to downsize, leading to even more drops in revenue, which starts the cycle all over again.
Regarding other sectors: hotels, tourism, transportation, etc: have seen their income fall by billions, and combined employ as many workers as the construction construction. Agriculture and other primary activities are probably mostly affected by second order factors, such as lower international demand and lower prices - which puts them in a secondary position for aid; their main issue at the moment is the paralysis in activity affecting docks and trucking due to the lockdown. “Personal services”, the tech sectors, and other highly skilled workers can probably move home and still receive full compensation; some firms, such as “Latin America’s Amazon” Mercadolibre or companies that specialize in consulting or telecommunications, could even thrive in this context. .
All in all, the economy looks like it will take a big hit from the lockdown: experts have estimated
that each day in March had a 30% reduction in activity (which could be estimated by the observed drops in the demand for electricity, fuel, and transportation), and some go even further and assume a 45% daily drop in April, due to higher baselines because of seasonal factors. Goldman Sachs predicts
GDP would drop by 5.4% in 2020, the largest decrease in 18 years (it was 10.9% in 2002) and more than the previous for years combined.
Trade and the external sector
To begin with, Argentina is basically cut off from financial markets at this point: country risk (the premium the country must pay to borrow) skyrocketed to 4500 points at a maximum, before settling in the high 3000’s, and the country seems to be on the verge of its 9th debt default- restructuring offers are basically dead now, with Guzmán and Fernández previously intending to negotiate during March and April. There is no clear consensus on the specific consequences of a debt default, although this publication by the IMF
seems to imply it both causes tremendous damage to a nation’s reputation and cuts off growth by weakening the banking sector (which has taken a pummeling in the last year), even if defaulting itself does not cause degrowth. Since most companies are expected to have difficulties paying salaries due to low liquidity, and most people are also expected to not pay some of their obligations, a financial crash could send shockwaves into an already weak economy. In the longer run, a weak financial sector (like the one Argentina most definitely has) can constrain the access to credit necessary for investment - which is a prerequisite for sustained growth, and which already is at its lowest share of GDP in decades. The government remains adamant that its official position is not to default, but the chances of an offer that both sides are content with are slim - the IMF itself has recently weighed in and supported large haircuts for the sovereign debts of emerging economies.
Secondly, trade: most of Argentina’s leading trading partners
(Brazil, the EU, the US, China, South Korea) have been negatively affected by coronavirus - China’s GDP is probably going to plummet in the second quarter, and exports to Asian markets have already decreased by 30%. China alone is responsible for almost a third of all industrial exports, which will surely affect global supply chains negatively, as well as reducing imports. Argentina has mostly been a commodity exporter (they made up 40 of the 65 billion dollars in exports during 2019) and commodity prices have plunged during March - soybean, wheat and corn prices will affect the trade balance most harshly, and oil (which is key to national investment in the Southern provinces) has nearly halved in price, making the U$S 15 billion investments that were planned probably unprofitable. The agricultural sector in particular may be heading to a crisis of its own soon, since restrictions on labor and movement, issues with transportation, and blockages to roads and docks have negatively impacted production and sales - and April is the beginning of the most productive part of the year. Regarding Brazil, Argentina’s largest trading partner, relations have been tense due to the personal and political inminity between presidents Fernández and Bolsonaro (who at one point threatened to leave the Mercosur trade bloc) - and growth and industrial production projections for the neighbouring giant have steeply declined lately, which doesn’t bode well for Argentina at all: those indicators, due to the large entanglements between the two nations, are some of the strongest predictors of Argentinian growth (and vice versa: the Brazilian stagnation and manufacturing recession of these last few years have negatively impacted on its partner, which has also entered a recession of its own to the detriment of Brazil itself).
Another major issue for the government is the peso becoming “overvalued”: due to the high volatility in international capital markets (almost 60 billion fled out of developing countries
/arc-anglerfish-arc2-prod-infobae.s3.amazonaws.com/public/IG6CNPW4IFD6VM3QCC5RY5VWXQ.jpg)), most emerging currencies have been battered, rapidly depreciating with regard to the US dollar
. The Argentinian peso became one of the strongest currencies of such category (honestly surprising news) because the high rates of inflation mean that any devaluation will be offset by higher national prices
; as a result, any gains in competitivity done after the massive devaluations of 2019 have already been lost
, since the real exchange rate is, in fact, lower than it was in August. As a result, the country will lose many of its trade advantages over its competitors, which will negatively impact the trade balance (fewer exports + more imports, despite more rigorous controls) and possibly create difficulties in acquiring the hard currency
in such high demand in the economy.
Deficits, debt, and the money printers
Argentina’s government has been quick to take action on the healthcare front, declaring a quarantine not even a month before the first cases were confirmed, and extending it for nearly a full month. Their political resolve in handling the pandemic was widely praised, with leaders across the political spectrum working together and Alberto Fernández himself soaring to 90% approval, with 95% of the population approving of his actions.
On the economic front, things have moved way more slowly. The government has mostly taken actions on the demand side, as was previously detailed, by increasing transfers to individuals on the basis of need and with a means-tested mechanism to ensure that nobody “with too much” gets aid. This logic may be questionable, but it is widely accepted that aiding those most in need is correct; so far, these programs have cost about 0.6% of GDP, doubling the public sector’s deficit (from 0.5% in 2019) amid slumping revenue
, due to the ongoing recession (lowering income from VAT and, to a lower extent, payrolls and income) and the collapse in foreign trade (hurting export and import taxes). This will surely create difficulties all over the country, since the government will lose its margin of action concerning any future developments; provincial and municipal governments, extremely dependent on sales taxes, administrative charges, and central government remittances, will take an even larger hit (especially some, such as Buenos Aires, Chubut, and La Rioja, which are having serious difficulties with their external debt).
On the supply side, on the other hand, the government has been extremely slow in offering any real support to struggling businesses. 80% of small businesses don't think they could stay in business if the lockdown continues for an entire month
, and 70% of companies are planning on cutting costs
. Only some sectors (such as tourism and entertainment) received tax cuts, albeit in homeopathic proportions, and some plans to help the construction sector, such as the Procrear credits and a $100 billion infrastructure plan, will take their time. Companies have shown concerns regarding how to pay their employees’ salaries, since the collapse in sales has surely impaired their liquidity - and the Central Bank took measures to inject up to $280 billion into the economy, which has led to much lower rates in short-term borrowing.
The government has also recently announced two new programs: government assistance of up to a minimum wage of salaries for companies with under 100 employees, a doubling of unemployment subsidies, and a 95% postponement in payroll taxes for smaller companies (up to 60 employees). This seems to make sense, until you consider that the largest companies have been hit just as hard by the recession in the past year
, and that companies with over 100 employees have bled jobs for the last 12 months; this is without even getting into the sector-by-sector measures that almost all those affected (from construction, to cinemas, and small retailers) have already demanded. The fact that this expansion to spending seems to mostly come from into aggregate demand has not put experts at ease
: this will not increase revenue at a time of crisis, but it could also be insufficient to protect firms from bankruptcy.
One of the biggest problems concerning an enlarged deficit is that almost all avenues of financing it are unavailable: reducing the deficit itself is impossible, as has been specified, and Argentina (as previously explained) is teetering on the verge of default, so it’s not like the financial sector is dying to lend. So the only remaining alternative is seigniorage: in March, the Central Bank assisted the Treasury to the tune of $125 billion, and has printed nearly $400 billion in this regard since December. Even if, yes, money printer go brr
(for example, former Central Bank President and inflation hawk Guido Sandleris has defended the expansion
as necessary, with some caveats, during a conference) many economists have recently rung alarm bells: the government's massive expansion of the monetary base (some say 62% in all of 2020, and it has recently reached the record high of 2 trillion pesos
) could become a factor for inflation to still go up, from the 54.8% 20-year record in 2019 to the 60’s or even 70’s (since the exchange rate is under steep controls and the monetary base contracted massively in the previous two years, nobody serious is forecasting hyperinflation yet). The inflationary tax being a way to raise revenue in this dire context could be acceptable in the short term - the Central Bank gave $125 billion for the government, while overall emission was at nearly half a trillion
and was mostly justified with measures to keep firms liquid and not allow the chain of payments to break - or force companies to not pay their taxes to stay solvent. And in another positive development for inflation doves, the demand of money has risen recently
- since people and companies are having trouble paying their bills, their employees, or even buying groceries. This makes it unlikely the new pesos will go to the currency market (a leading preoccupation of policy makers), since that could put pressure for a devaluation and boost inflationary expectations - which generate inflation of their own.
Concerning debt, the government has taken all available steps to create confidence - despite being at ideological odds with the organism, it was recently announced that they would accept a U$S 3.5 billion dollar SDR that was previously refused
, added to smaller loans of a couple hundred billion by the IDB and the World Bank to finance the new spending caused by the crisis. The IMF itself has expressed support for emerging markets giving large “haircuts” to their sovereign debts, which Minister Guzmán seems to have taken at heart: he looks set to offer big cuts to interests and principal, a grace period, and maybe even unorthodox instruments like a GDP based bonus
. Bonds recovered slightly, and country risk went slightly down; the problematic aspect could be that part of the recovery in bonds could be by “vulture funds” trying to gobble up obligations for cheap to later sue the country and get the full amount from a more friendly government (as Paul Singer famously did in 2019). While Guzmán’s good intentions were appreciated, bondholders did not accept the offer - and countered with a proposal for a 6 month break in payments and negotiations
out of mistrust of the government and the options it presented.
Summing up, 2020 is shaping up to be a tough year for Argentina - or even tougher than expected. All indicators seemed to point at the economy being somewhat on the path to a recovery, with a milder recession, less inflation, and a public sector with a small deficit and a friendly (as possible, at least) debt restructuring. Coronavirus came as bad news (where didn’t it, though) at the worst possible moment.
Despite the obvious political differences of most readers with the Fernández administration, it is clear that his handling of the healthcare side of the issue received wide acclaim, even if Latin America’s standards for it are depressingly low
. On the economic front, Fernández acted within the bounds of the mainstream and still focused his efforts on the poorest segments of society. In the immediate context, it could seem like a positive - nevertheless, it’s clear that all actors in the economy will be heavily affected by the crisis, and not providing aid to all of them would be inadequate. The government has also undertaken some deeply populist measures that will have no meaningful effect: a list of maximum prices, enforced by AFIP (the tax collection agency) inspectors which has mostly resulted in crackdowns for the small businesses that can’t actually afford to sell at those values.
The authorities could provide the necessary stimulus to the economy, putting those least affected on the back burner until the worst of the crisis has passed; unfortunately, taking coronavirus as an opportunity to enact even stronger controls on market mechanisms out of ideological purity would do a huge disservice to the country at a crucial time.
That reminds me of a story.
♫ “And the D-I-Y rocket’s red glare… The homebrew bombs exploding in air…
Our vodka 150o
proof through the night…That we somehow still had our hair…”♫ The Fourth of July!
Or, as we veteran pyrotechnicians call it: “Amateur Night”.
However, before we display our prowess afore these once-a-year pyro-tyros, we need to turn back the clock a few months, because, to quote a sage philosopher of the day: “What a long strange trip it’s been.”
Moreover, we need a little time to plan our annual gross physical salute to our wonderful nation, in this pre-Bicentennial year.
The principal development was that the gang of four was reduced, albeit temporarily, to the gang of three.
We’re still not certain who fired this particular arrow of time, so the establishment of causation in such non-experimental designs is difficult. However, we can describe the outcome.
Ron’s parents, after a long, though suspiciously unknown to the neighborhood, estrangement, had divorced. Evidently, the pressure of Ron’s father’s profession as a traveling musician proved too much strain for the marriage to bear.
Mrs. Ron’s Mother was returning to Oklahoma to be with her aged parents until she could determine which direction she wanted her life to take. Since she barely possessed a high school education, no work experience outside of the home, and relied exclusively on Ron’s father for virtually everything in life, there were few illusions as to how this would turn out. Church groups would weigh heavily in her future.
Ron’s father would continue touring with his several bands. He was quite the polyphonic musician, writer, and manager; so was never at a loss for work. Which was a good thing as Ron would be accompanying him on the road; since Ron decided that high school was no longer a necessity and he’d learn his life lessons via The Freeway of Life.
Ron was leaving our little slice o’ heaven here in Baja Canada, forever as it turned out, for a life on the road. We never really knew or, be fair, cared that Ron was somewhat of an accomplished bass guitar player; though he couldn’t sing worth shit. This helped tip the pile of results towards Ron’s father when the whole issue of child custody raised its ugly head.
For whatever we have done, and whatever we can still get away with; in the eyes of the law, we’re all still minors.
Really busy, inquisitive, downright dangerous, and determined minors, but minors nonetheless. At least, for a short while longer.
I am certain the fact that Rhonda found herself pregnant had no impact on the decisions made by Ron’s parents.
After three months of blissful togetherness, and Ron’s retreat from reality due to his insane jealousy, Ron and Rhonda had become officially “an item”. Casting a single shadow, one never saw one without the other, throw one rock and hit two; that sort of thing.
Rhonda decided that pursing courses at university for her journalism career, being at Ron’s constant beck and call while being his ‘significant other’, and
being an Assistant Manager at Quakey’s Olde Tyme Pizza Parlor and Saloon was simply too tough of a row for her to hoe.
Something had to go.
And that something was higher education.
Except for Ron’s completely unsolicited and violently insane displays of unrequited jealousy, the situation between Ron and Rhonda seems just this side of idyllic. That is if idealism came with a side of suspicion, distrust, and cynicism.
Rhonda would gently bring up to Ron that she wanted to visit with her pre-Ron girlfriends, had to attend a mandatory meeting with coworkers at the pizza joint, or just wanted to attend a study meeting at university; Ron would board his personal crazy train.
A usual Ron/Rhonda exchange would evolve like something along these lines (Ron first):
“You’re going out to go cheat on me!”
“No, I’m not. I’m meeting with some friends from Journalism class…”
“Oh, so you’re going to meet with more than one guy? Want to look like a whore?”
“No. I’m just going to the Gasthaus so we can go over our notes before the midterm.”
“Oh, so you’re going to go out and get drunk! Cruising for sailors?”
“No, the Gasthaus has those big tables so we can all meet around them together.”
“Oh, so you like it in the dark so no one can see what you’re doing…”
And so on, and so on…
We were surprised Rhonda let Ron get within 30 feet of here.
Evidently, she did; and he did. Several times, evidently.
And now Rhonda was pregnant.
So Ron did the ignoble thing: he did a runner. The callous prick.
Rhonda cut all ties with everyone, though somewhat confided in me during our final tutoring session. There was very little chemistry teaching that day as Rhonda offloaded her trainload of travails in my direction.
What could I do? I wasn’t a counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist; hell, I was still technically a minor, fer Chrissake. This is a fuckload of freight to dump on some guy who’s not even getting any sort of special benefits; not like I was looking for any at present. But, I could listen and provide a literal and metaphorical shoulder on which for her to cry.
Yeah, I was a bit uncomfortable as Rhonda ran down the sordid history of her and Ron’s relationship; especially the sections on oral and other varieties of sex.
Never, in a fucking million years, would we have figured Ron to be the jealous, conniving, indignant, evil son-of-a-bitch he was. It’s actually a good thing he headed off down the road; there is no way any of us would trust this asshole with as much as a Lady Finger firecracker much less real explosives.
Rhonda hadn’t made the decision of whether she was going to keep the baby or exercise her Roe v. Wade prerogative. I really had no horse to back in this race so all I did was console her as best I could and let her use me as an impartial sounding board. It seemed to help. She was going off to Wyoming to be with her Grandparents until the situation “sorted itself out”.
We parted as good friends that day, promising to stay in touch.
We never saw nor heard from the other ever again.
We all wish her well with whatever decision she made; we hope she’s happy.
Odd, never heard again from Ron either; probably because he absconded with all our company petty cash, but that seemed an appropriate action for him at the point. We did see some small mention of him in his father’s obituary some years later. We all wished him hell.
The gang of three decided that we had been whistling past the graveyard in the automotive department for too long. We bit the metaphorical bullet and took Driver’s Education in High School. Considering by then we could perform perfect Bootlegger J-turns at speed and could parallel park blindfolded; we reluctantly shut up, read our outdated Highway Safety books, and tried not to laugh too loudly at the grislier parts of such Driver’s Ed classics as “Red Runs the Asphalt”.
We all got our licenses. We were, in the eyes of the law, mostly legal.
Insurance? Well, that was another matter. For later.
Inexplicably, even though Rick’s idiot brother Rance couldn’t drive since he was unable for some reason to hold down a job, his car was needing more and more automotive attention. Reason? We were beating it to death. We did most the wrenching on it over at Ike’s garage, with the help of Earl, Ike’s recently Army honorably-discharged from SE Asian activities, older brother.
I think the more astute of you out there see where this is headed…
Ike noted that since we’re doing more demolition work, now its summer, we need to return Rance’s car to him and find our own transportation.
[Snapping alternator bolt] “GOD DAMN IT! I hate this piece of shit! Rick! Rock! When are we going to find a new car? I hate this piece of shit! I hate Rance! And I really hate fixing Rance’s piece of shit for him!” Ike lamented.
“We're combing the ads. The only ones we found that might work are either too clapped-out or too damned expensive.” Rick noted.
“I have to agree, though. We’ve pretty much knackered Rance’s car. I say we quit fucking with it, give it back, and spend our time finding something more suitable.” I said.
“HEY LOSERS! What it be?” asks Earl as he invades the garage.
“Oh, hey Earl. We’re going to junk this piece of shit and find something we can all use. Got any ideas?” I said.
“Me? Fuck no. Hey, I just got back to the world. Tell me again what the fuck you losers are planning on…”
“We are the ‘Gang of Three R&D (Renovation & Demolition) Co., Inc.’ ‘No job to big, no fee too big’. ‘Around the world, around the clock’. ‘We blow your headaches away’.”
“OK, so we’re still working on a catchy slogan...” Ike clarified.
“So you fucktards go out and blow shit up for money? And that’s legal?” Earl wondered.
“Not only is it probably not
legal, but it is
profitable; it gets you out in the open air, and it’s a fucking load of grins as well. Hey. Wait. ‘We blow shit up for SCIENCE!’ How’s that?” I brightened.
“Keep working on it…” Earl chuckles as he helps himself to a beer and one of my cigars.
Oddly enough, the idea for our truck came from Mr. Armstrong.
We were all down at the hobby shop, probably purchasing more cannon fuse when we related our tale of woe.
“We need a good truck or panel van, but they’re either shit or too expensive. There’s nothing in the ads and the older ones we find are so rusted, they’ll give you tetanus.” Rick related.
Mr. Armstrong says: “Why don’t you try out Anchor Ace’s Auto Auction out on the Interstate? They take in everything from classic cars to total wrecks. The put them up on the block and people bid on them. Highest bid, bingo; and Bob’s your uncle. They take in stuff from distress sales, police confiscations, and all sorts of good stuff. That’s how I got my truck. At a damn good price, as well.”
Two weeks later and we’re paddle number 298. We paid $25 for the paddle, that is, the right to bid, but we’d get that back if we won any auction. There was a number of really cool vans, trucks and other vehicles that would all fit our pistol. And we had a whole $300 left in company funds to spend. We’re not walking the fuck out of here…
It was an Open Auction, no reserve; meaning bidding started at US$0.01 and if that was the highest bid, you’re the winner. Basically, that was the only way we could have hoped to even come close to some of the vehicles we were lusting over.
After seven different bids for vehicles we wanted were stolen out from under us, there came on the dock a strange vehicle, an odd vehicle, a vehicle no one in the in their right minds would have wanted.
We lusted after it.
It was a panel van built on a truck frame. It had been previously employed in the business of foodservice and even though it was old, it had relatively few miles on the clock. Best of all, it was getting late in the auction and the day so many potential competitors had already secured their vehicles and left.
Bidding started and we just stood there, stock-still, silent, waiting out our opposition.
If three minutes elapsed with no bid, that auction would be closed and deferred to another day.
At 2 minutes 50 seconds, Rick lost his nerve and paddled up $50.
Tic, toc, tic. We waited for any other bids. So far, so good.
“$100.” some troublemaker bid.
Fuck, we had competition.
“$150.” We countered.
“$200.” Came the reply.
“$250.” We responded.
“$300.” Came the next bid.
We were fuckered. That was the extent of our cash. Damn. Have to wait another two weeks for the next auction…Fuckbuckets.
“$400!” came in an offer from a new bidder.
“What the fuck?” we wondered.
“$400? Once…twice…three times…SOLD! To number 298.”
WHAT THE FUCK! We’re number 298!
Earl comes wandering over, all smiles, and says “OK, boys, pony up your $300. I just invested a hunnered [sic] bucks in your company. Guess I’m your new partner.”
Here a picture of a truck similar to the one Earl bought us that day:
Yeah, it’s going to need some work.
We pay up and wait until dark to drive the truck back to Ike’s. We weren’t embarrassed, much, we were just being prudent. We didn’t have any insurance and the signature was still wet on the title. Earl’s title, as it turned out. He wasn’t a minor…details, details…
We all stood around looking at the newest member of our troupe, and just shook our collective heads, wondering what our next step would be.
Earl broke that dam with: “Guys. Since I’m now a partner, I suggest I go ahead and strip the paint off this goofy truck and gut the interior. I know a couple of guys here in town that are pretty good mechanics and one even owns his own van conversion shop. You still have obligations school-wise and I’m not keen on finding a job just yet. It’ll give me something to do. Whaddya say?”
As if we had a choice.
“Yeah, but our cool company name “Gang of Three R&D” won’t work any longer. Unless you plan on being a silent partner.” Ike hoped.
Earl stopped to ponder. “Well, that’s not going to happen. We need a new company name. “Gang of Four” sounds good. But “Gang of Four” what?”
“’Gang of Four Sleazy Whores’ since we’re in it just for the money?” Rick jokingly suggested.
“Yeah, that’ll look good on the truck and in the Yellow Pages. Folks will be knocking down our doors with job offers...” I said.
“Gang of Four: Trees No More”? Rick suggested but was vetoed as we’re not strictly arborists.
More failed suggestions:
“Gang of Four: Cause We’re Poor”.
“Gang of Four: Hear Us Roar.”
“Gang of Four: Demolishing More.”
“Gang of Four from Surface to Core.” Odd foreshadowing, at least for some.
We finally settled on: “Gang of Four: World Tour”, even though the rhyme was really forced.
We decided to go with a sort of musical motif and capitalize on AM radio for advertising.
Earl thought it was great since it was his idea. He told us to get lost for a couple of weeks as he and his cronies could attack the truck to transform it into something a little less cartoony.
If only… If only…
Time progressed and we were called to assemble back at Ike’s garage. The only note we had from Earl over the previous fortnight was regarding some locking cabinets we had asked him and his guys to leave in the truck, as we’d have to do some redesign after the fact for strongboxes and explosives storage/transport. Oh, there was one little request for him to spend a last few extra company dollars on the exterior artwork. Seems multi-colored 70’s-era van exteriors must, by law, contain 300 or more colors.
Earl was fairly happy. ‘Happy’ meaning he had free beer for the last two weeks, an unlimited weed supply, and was groovin’ on the fumes from his buddies airbrushes. He was absolutely light-headed to spring his “surprise” on us for the company.
Rick, Ike and I grew more uneasy by the minute.
“Man, you guys are gonna fuckin’ dig this so much. I’ll bet the [local news rag] will send photographers to cover the scene, it’s gonna be so epic. Everyone will know ‘Gang of Four’!” Earl gushed.
Any time, Earl. Let’s have the unveiling.
“Oh, yeah. Yeah. Here, just a minute.” Earl went and did something absolutely unnecessary, for no particular reason.
“Earl? The truck?” We asked.
“Oh, yeah. Sure. Give me a minute to get the keys.” Earl remonstrated.
“Um, Earl. They’re in your hand.” Rick noted.
“Oh, yeah. How about that?” Earl examined them like they were new versions of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
“Ike seems Earl’s had a bit too much happiness today. Can you open the garage and back the truck out before we all go a bit spare?” I ask.
“Earl. Keys. Now.” Ike declares.
Grinning goofily, Earl hands over the keys to Ike and goes to swing open the garage doors.
The truck was covered from the rear to front with a sheet of tarpaulin.
“Gotta keep the surprise until the unveiling”, Earl grins slightly unsteadily.
Ike carefully backs the truck out of the garage and about halfway down the driveway until he stops, choreographed by Earl’s frantic waving.
“There! There! Stop! Oh, perfect. This is gonna be great!” Earl was absolutely giddy with excitement. “Wait. Wait. Wait. Let me pull the tarp. I get to do the unveiling!”
“OK, Earl. Take it easy. Sheesh. OK. Go nuts.”
Earl gathers up the end of the tarp, yanks with a mighty SWOOSH
and hollers: “TA DA!”
It was, well; colorful. It was, err; interesting. It was, ah; Picasso’s waking nightmare.
It was, in reality, a very 1970’s-ish muralized, Yes-meets-Pink Floyd-meets-Emerson, Lake and Palmer-meets-Jethro Tull-meets-King Crimson-meets-Led-Zeppelin concatenation of album covers, in a whore’s dream of a color palette. It showed off our company name and logo; we didn’t even know we had a logo, and lurid, pseudo-3D air-brushed depictions of virtually every type of combustion known to man. From early Cro-Magnon man rubbing his two sticks together to the Eniwetok Atoll nuclear test, it was…busy.
“Fuckin’-A, man! Ain’t that SO fuckin’ COOL?” Earl gushed.
It was so cool, in fact, we had drawn many of the neighbors outside to see what was scaring their children.
The interior was much better, although it was done in a sort of muted brown-meets-beige-meets-mauve; which is a neat trick for any artist to manage.
It also included faux-leather captain’s chairs for the driver and co-pilot. It boasted fully-gauged instrumentation, a work table, work area, locking steel-reinforced storage cabinets, a medical center (first aid kit and fire extinguisher), tool racks, restroom facilities (i.e., a place to piss), sink, dual battery setup, running water, 110 VAC outlets, and a small refrigerator. The crowning touch was the addition of a polished cherry wood humidor, mounted directly amidships between the drive and co-pilot.
a work of art. Violent? Depends on what you were drinking the night before.
Earl and his friends didn’t neglect the mechanics of the machine either. They tweaked that big block straight-6 cylinder engine with all sorts of junkyard liberated goodies. New carbs, new camshaft, new valves, and new transmission.
Earl was proud that he “Dumped that slush-box (automatic 3-speed transmission) for a new high-performance slap-stick 4-speed.” He also fine-tuned the suspension with new air-shocks, ladder bars, traction control arms, mag wheels, and new tires all around.
“Earl, this is great, although I don’t think we really wanted to test it out at Union Grove”; the local dragstrip, Ike noted. “How did you pay for all of this? Shit, the labor alone must have cost us a fortune.”
“Oh, not to worry, brother-mine. We nabbed most everything from midnight-boneyard trips. My buddies were glad to get off their asses and actually have something to do. Frank (the van conversion guy) had loads of leftover parts from when folks came in and upgraded their rides, so we got a lot of shit for free. See the perimeter lights?”
He flicked a switch and the interior lit-up like a disco.
“Yeah. Came from this one dude’s van. He wanted track lighting and we couldn’t let this go to waste.”
“So, how much do we owe?” Rick asked.
“Oh, not much. Just some free rides and a couple of guys want to come with next time you blow something up…” Earl explained.
“So, we’re clear on this monstrosity?” I asked.
“Yep. Consider it a gift from your new partner.” Earl crookedly grinned.
The next weekend found us all, that is Rick, Ike, Earl, myself and two or three of Earl’s army buddies, out in some not-so-local cow pasture. We had been hired, though almost fired immediately when we rolled up on location: “What the hell is THAT!?!” I believe was the direct quote from Farmer Brown, our current employer.
Once we explained ourselves, Farmer Brown settled down and the job particulars were laid out. We were to remove some pesky glacial erratic boulders from the farmer’s south-40 pasture.
It was an easy job, for which I was glad. I told Earl and company that: “Here, I’m the boss; just ask Rick and Ike. You do what I say when I say it, or you are gone. It has to be this way.”
“Do we have an understanding? “ I asked Earl and his buddies.
“Hey, Rock. No problem. We’re all ex-military; we know the score. We can probably show you a thing or two…” Earl replied.
“Good. Being ex-military, you absolutely know the value of chain-of-command. We green here?” I ask.
“Green as grass” they reply in unison.
I made a show of mapping out our quarry [ahem], drawing circuit diagrams and calculating just how much explosive, and the type, to remove the offending boulders.
“Hey, Rock. Why not just plant a half-dozen sticks of dynamite on the perimeter and blast the fuck out of the bastards?” Earl asks.
“Because we just want to evict them from their earthen homes, not shatter them into a million pieces. They’ll be easier to load up and transport out of here if they are in more or less one piece. Besides, that’s what Farmer Brown ordered.” I reply.
“Oh, I see. Gotcha.” Earl notes.
“OK, Rick and Ike, this is a job for C-4 and Primacord. We are going to have to dig down around the peripheries of the boulders to get charges under them to give them a boost. Farmer Brown has a backhoe we can use, who’s up for that while I do the paperwork and prime the charges?” I ask.
Earl jumps down from our truck and volunteers. “I ran all sorts of heavy equipment in the Army, I can do that no problem.”
Well, he is technically a member of the team. Sure, why not?
“OK, sounds good. Ike will go with you to show you where the backhoe is kept.”
“Back in a few!” Earl cheerfully gives a thumbs-up to his buddies as he and Ike take our truck over to the barn to retrieve the backhoe.
I work at our portable worktable as Earl’s buddies ooh and aww over our collected pyrotechnics. Of course, numerous blowing-shit-up Army stories came filtering out.
Earl and Ike show up with our truck and the backhoe. Rick gets spotter duty to tell Earl exactly what we need done.
I have to admit, I was impressed. Earl handled that old Case tractor like a pro. We had all 5 boulders trenched, exposed, and ready for charging in less than an hour.
Ike backed the truck up to a safe distance and told everyone not directly involved with shot setting to back off, keep their hands in their pockets, and just watch.
Surprisingly enough, they all did.
This would take three separate shots. One for the big block of rhyolite, one for the big granite erratic, and one for the three smaller remainders.
Good. That would give most everyone here a chance to play with Captain America.
I decided to prime and set all three charges together. They were far enough apart that they wouldn’t interfere with each other and other than the cost of a few hundred feet of demolition wire, would save time and money.
After all was set and ready, I took some small red flags out of the truck and planted them in the pasture.
“Under no circumstances, does ANYONE go past those flags except me, Rick and Ike. Ground is HOT! If there’s a misfire or hang fire, stay put. Do we have an understanding?”
I was greeted with a solid chorus of “Sir! Yes, sir!”
Shit. That’s more like it.
I told everyone gathered the procedure: Clear, clear, clear. Fire in the hole. Blast on the air horn. Wait for the high-sign from the blaster. Push the big, shiny red button. Duck and cover...
“Earl, would you like the honors of the first shot from our new blasting truck?” I asked.
And ear-to-ear grin signaled that yes, he would like that. Very much.
“OK, Mr. Earl, please give the call, three times, as loud as you can.”
“FIRE IN THE HOLE!” x3.
I did one last quick visual check; all clear. I point to Mr. Earl and yell: “HIT IT!”
Earl mashes down on Captain America’s big shiny red button.
“PWOOMPH!” Ground shakes, there’s a little tremor. A puff of surface dust.
We look over to see a 5-ton boulder sitting on top of the pasture like it actually belonged there.
We ran through the next two extractions clean as you please. We had 5 boulders just sitting there, basking calmly in the warm northern noonday sun.
“Ike, would you and Earl take the backhoe back and bring Farmer Brown out here, please?” I ask.
“Sure. Back in a few.”
Farmer Brown shakily disembarks from our truck. “I didn’t know what to expect when I first saw that truck, but golly-damn, boys, you did a fine job.”
“Thank you, Sir. Want to take a look?”
So we examined our handiwork, and Farmer Brown demurred a bit.
“Well, sons, these three are OK, but these other two are bigger than I thought. Gonna be hard to load. Can you knock them into a few pieces so I can get them loaded with the backhoe?”
“Sure, not a problem, barely an inconvenience. That will, however, cost a bit extra.” I reply.
“Yeah, I know. No problem. Go ahead and we’ll settle up back at the farmhouse.”
“We’ll be done within the hour.” I replied.
I had lots of help from Earl and his buddies when I went over to inspect the two large boulders to size them up for reduction. The boulders both had nice fracture systems, so setting a little molded C-4 would make this job go easily.
“OK, now it’s nut cuttin’ time. We’re going to be shattering some rocks here, so Ike, turn the truck around ass-first if you would. That way, even if some shrapnel gets loose, we won’t need a new windshield. Gents, everyone not doing something directly on the shot is to be inside the truck when we fire. No arguments, safety first. Right?”
“Right, Rock” came the replies.
“Rick, get a couple of blasting mats, the heavy hemp ones, that’ll keep stragglers home.”
I decided to do both at once, and since it was a pretty good collection of C-4, blasting caps, boosters, and Primacord, I dragged out ol’ reliable, our plunger detonator.
“No fuckin’ way. You’ve got one of them? Far out, movie time. Can I try it?” one of Earl’s buddies asked.
“Well, I’ll run the demo wires to the inside of the truck, and tie it in. I guess there’ll be no problem. Why not?”
He grinned like a Cheshire cat.
The shots went off as planned. The blasting mats contained any flying bits of igneous rock and the two big boulders were now a collection of several smaller pieces of big boulder.
“That’s it. Wait! Hold it!” I yelled.
Earl and his buddies wanted to trek out and check our handiwork. I told them of the danger of smoldering stragglers and how we wait at least 30 minutes for the all-clear.
“But in the meantime, I’ll do the paperwork and you can pour me a drink and fetch cigars for all so inclined. “ I added.
Paperwork done, we checked our work and found it more than satisfactory. We didn’t bury the smallest chunk of rock and had cleaved the big boulders down to more manageable sizes.
We packed up and were getting ready to go when I mentioned it would be a few more minutes. Final inventory had to be done and everything had to tally.
“Jesus Christ. You guys are pros. In the Army we never did any of this shit; just blew things up and went forward. I’m impressed.” Earl noted.
“Well, here we don’t have people shooting at us.” Ike replied.
“True that.” Earl and his buddies agreed.
Over the next month or so, we had jobs every weekend. Boulder removal here, tree knocking-over there. It went fairly smoothly and Earl was a creditable asset. At least we didn’t have to worry about him getting jealous over who was driving the truck or any such shit.
“Hey, Rock. Next weekend it the Fourth of July. Let’s put on a show to display our new truck. Maybe even get a little free advertising.” Rick said.
“We can do that.” I agreed.
We spent the next week at Armstrong’s Hobbies spending a good portion of our non-incorporated, non-licensed company’s money buying up cannon fuse, rocket kits, and loads and loads of various chemicals. I had just figured out how to synthesize PETN. It was a similar, though different, method to making nitroglycerine; but this time avoided any loss of outdoor park furniture.
We built kit rockets for their one-way trips. We had iron oxide, copper, phosphorus, sulfur, powdered aluminum, as well as a rather large selection of other compounds that make pretty colors when they detonate.
I built some M-80 and M-100 equivalents out of cardboard tubes, PETN and cannon fuse.
We had Earl and Ike bike down to a state adjacent to ours with more liberal fireworks laws to purchase a load of bottle rockets, firecrackers, and other assorted commercial fireworks.
These, of course, were the raw materials for our own designs.
I worked up a spectacular secret finale. Just for Earl, it was a surprise.
The Fourth rolled around and we just laze around the shop, drinking beer, smoking cigars, and waiting for dusk. Earl had a number of his buddies show up just for the show. Several dollars changed hands during the poker games that spontaneously erupted.
Just before dusk, we rolled the truck (which still didn’t have a name) over to the high school yard. It was a huge, open grass field with a running track to the north, a small stadium due east and a large patch of open nothing where we were going to fire off our show.
As I noted earlier, the local cops turn a slightly blind eye to fireworks on the Fourth, so we took the opportunity to make it a show. We had music blaring from the truck, fire extinguishers set up to deal with any sort of incendiary problem, brooms and garbage bags to clean up any mess we might make.
We just exuded professionalism.
We fired off the first salvo of rockets and were rewarded with ohhs and ahhhs from the folks who lived in close proximity to the high school.
Several thousand 1” firecrackers gaffer taped under pressure together make a nice display when they detonate all at once. Sounds like some small South American countries.
M-80s and M-100’s make one hell of reverberating racket. We decided to keep those to a minimum. PETN is fucking loud.
Firing 1,000 bottle rockets in succession like a Russian Katyusha rocket-launcher provided for one hell of a display, especially since we were using an old chain-link fence gate as the launch pad.
We had loads of spinners, floaters, screamers, laughers; a whole galaxy of various colored-flame spitting and exploding ground effects devices.
The best was our payload rockets. These were launched from the inside of an 8” diameter piece of PVC pipe. It was like a steroidal mortar. Light the fuse, drop the single-stage rocket down the 10” tube, and rapidly set it to 80o
in the custom jig Earl ginned up. The rocket would roar out of the pipe like it was the little cousin of the Saturn 5.
Then it would explode at altitude.
The neighbors loved them.
Our stocks were depleting and Earl’s buddy was snoring in the co-pilot’s seat. I figured that since I planned the finale for midnight, now might be a good time to button everything up; just leaving me to set up the finale.
One of Earl’s non-drinking buddies was elected to drive the truck the mile or so back to Ike’s and lock it down for the night. They would walk back, with wheeled cooler in tow, to await the witching hour.
They took off with the truck and I got to work. I made a wee nest out of the sandbox-sand I had acquired earlier. Just a simple raised circle of sand about 350 meters from where we’d be watching. I ran demo wire back to where our lawn chairs sat and wrapped the ends around the leg of one chair.
Then, I pulled out my bag of special goodies: one-half kilo of homebrew C-4 plastic explosive with the added magic ingredient pentaerythritol tetranitrate.
Five gallon-sized Ziploc-style bags each containing a gallon of 90 octane gasoline, two blasting caps, two blasting cap boosters, and a length of Primacord. I wired all this together and set the bags of gas on top of the C-4 charge. Galved everything, found it good to go and retired to lawn chair central to keep an eye on everything until everyone returned.
I had the Captain America blasting machine set and ready to go. T-15 minutes and it’d be midnight.
The local cops have been cruising by about every 15-30 minutes. They would occasionally stop and watch; even giving us a toot on their PA for one particularly spectacular rocket salvo, so I knew they weren’t going to be a problem. Or so I thought. Shift change came at midnight.
Ike, Rick, Earl and a few of his Army pals showed up just in time. I was out of beer and they brought the trail-along cooler. It was T-7 minutes now.
“So, what’s the plan?” asks Earl, popping a cold one. “What’s your grand finale?”
“Oh, yeah. The likes of which few have seen. And fewer have survived to speak about.” I replied.
Realizing now that I was talking to a bunch of very recent ex-Army characters, I probably should have re-designed the finale…
T-5 minutes and counting.
“OK, let’s have a look.” Rick produces a powerful flashlight and scans ground zero.
“OK, T-3 minutes. We’ll take another look at T-1, OK?” I note.
“Gentlemen, the sign is given. The refrain, please?”
“FIRE IN THE HOLE!” was sung in 7-part harmony, three times, at volume and with gusto.
The grounds were scanned and re-scanned.
I hand Earl Captain America, smile crookedly and say “It’s good to go. HIT IT!”
Earl mashes down on the big shiny red button.
As we’re picking ourselves up off the ground, we hear sirens headed in our general direction.
The grand finale went off great; if great is defined as “deafening fuel-air-gas explosion”.
The C-4 detonated a wee bit slower than I had calculated. It blasted the gasoline straight up and straight out, instead of combusting it more or less in place. I was looking for a huge cinematic-style fireball, not a bunker-buster.
The gasoline vaporized, as best I can figure, and spread out vertically and laterally in a huge cloud of noxious 90-octane.
When it reached 9-14% in air by volume, something, probably a hot piece of wire or smoldering blade of grass, set it off.
The shock wave was incredible. It flattened all of us, right on our asses. It scorched a nice, big patch of ground out on the high school sports area. It broke a few windows, but luckily most houses in the area were shielded by topography which worked in our favor as it focused the blast wave up and over most local domiciles.
The cops were the first to show up. They were less than amused.
The fire department, called by several homeowners in the area, also arrived.
We had a little explaining to do.
had a little explaining to do.
These were not the cops we had dealt with previously, these were the new shift and were not pleased with us being their first call.
The fire department guys surveyed the area and hosed it down just for good measure, even though there were no open fires, just some small areas of smoky, barren ground.
They were impressed. “Hmmm…call in an airstrike? Not bad for the Fourth of July.”
The cops were not impressed.
I was arrested, cuffed and tossed unceremoniously into the back of the squad car and transported downtown.
“Why me? I wasn’t the only one there!” I protested.
“Yeah, but you were the only one with the Captain America detonator in your pocket.”
Damn you, Earl, you sneaky bastard.
The next day I was facing the judge of the local circuit court.
“Ah, Mr. Rock, it’s you again. Didn’t we see you about six months ago in this very room?” as he goes over the evidence and police reports.
“So, you haven’t learned your lesson, have you?” the judge rhetorically asked.
“Oh, yes sir, I have. After some research, I’ve been able to synthesize all sorts of new…” I trailed off not realizing that the judge was speaking rhetorically.
“You leave me no choice, Mr. Rock. I hereby sentence you to 180 days…”
“At the DeSoto Technical College. You seem to have an aptitude for science and things of that nature. Maybe some structured discipline will help contain your…’enthusiasm’.” declared the judge.
“Sir, but I’m still in high school…”
“Not any longer. You’re going to be attending DeSoto in lieu of high school; and if you complete the course of study there, it will be counted as your high school diploma. You fail, drop out, or otherwise skive off, it’s the county lock up. Got that?”
“Yes, sir. I will not fail.”
“It is so ordered.”
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Nationwide Betting Odds FLIP to a Joe Biden Victory ... Will Democrats win midterms 2020 Senate Elections 2020 Midterm Elections Will Democrats win Midterms? Will Republicans Lose in 2020 ... I take a look at the polling data, betting odds, different forecasts, the president's approval rating, and the 2018 Midterm results to prove a very bold statement: If the election was to be held ... 2020 Senate Elections Predictions Projection - Top 10 2020 Senate Map Flips Predictions - Duration: 11:46. Political Forecast - Election Predictions Recommended for you 11:46 2:05 Betting Odds 2:45 What the models say 4:05 Safe and Likely States 5:35 Arizona 6:10 Michigan 6:35 Minnesota 7:20 Pennsylvania 7:40 Ohio 7:55 Iowa 8:10 Texas 8:50 Georgia 9:30 North Carolina ... Ben Shapiro shares his thoughts on the outcome of the upcoming 2018 midterm elections.