Cal Buys a Camper Shell

They say you can choose your friends but not your family. This is a story about both, my delinquent friend and wild child cousin Calvin Winfield Waterman. He was adopted at 3 or 4 and my aunt told me from the very first day, the very first minute in his new home, he was knocking lamps off of tables, pulling the cat’s tail, flinging food, and just being a little terrorist. Whatever he was told, he’d do the opposite and he stayed true to that ethos his entire life. 

He was also incredibly artistic, had a heart the size of Texas, and loved animals beyond reason. A handsome lad as well, in his prime I could tie a rope around his waist and push him into a crowd of young women and when I reeled him back in there would always be 2 or 3 hanging dreamily off his arms. Women seem to love the bad boy and he was that in spades.

Rolling back the clock to a bright fall Saturday circa 1982, I got a call from Cal asking for some help picking up a camper shell. “Sure” I said and accompanied him over to the home of two of his shifty drug dealing friends, Tony and Joe. They lived in an old dilapidated farmhouse provided by their dentist mother who couldn’t stand them but lent support to keep them away from her and her things, which tended to disappear whenever they were near.

Straight and sober these were freaky dudes but no one ever saw them that way as their true pleasure in life was ingesting any illicit substance that came their way. By the gram or ounce or pound, powder, leaf, or pill, they’d suck it down and go look for more. Overconsumption begets distribution as there’s simply no other way to support habits of mass indulgence without dealing and that was the draw for Cal, he thought they were cool. I thought they were dangerous and scary.

But Cal said he needed a camper shell for his beater work truck and had heard the brothers had the perfect thing waiting for him. Oh yeah, so down the dirt road to the Freddy Krueger house we went, and bangedy bang bang on the half hinged splintery front door and here comes Tony all sweaty from lord knows what impropriety, unkempt greasy blonde hair straggling to his shoulders and yes indeed he says, the object of Cal’s desire is around back in the weeds leaning up against the weathered clapboard.

Well a hundred bucks changed hands which was a fair used price but no steal if you get my drift and we loaded it onto Cal’s beater Ford work truck, shared a perfunctory toke with Tony and his even greasier and sweatier brother Joe and headed back to our world. I’m not sure how the “hair standing up on the back of your neck” response is supposed to work but I wish it had because things went downhill quickly thereafter.

Back at the shop I helped Cal screw the shell down to the bed of the truck and had to admit it was a fine and well kept example of an aluminum camper shell. Much nicer than his truck actually, which had started life with the Colorado Dept of Transportation and now 10 years later still showed a bit of the State Orange under the 4 or 5 succeeding paint jobs, but, for 325,000 miles it still ran surprisingly well. 3 beers and a little more smoke and Cal toodled off to meet destiny and I went home to take a nap. Cal was fun, but he was exhausting.

About a week later Cal was driving through downtown Golden on some minor business in his beater Ford F-100 work truck with the rather nice aluminum camper shell when he passed the Golden Fire Department Station #1. An old red brick two story building, the Fire Chief’s office was upstairs with a window facing the street, and the Chief, who just happened to be eating his lunch and browsing through the prior year’s Sports Illustrated Swim Suit Edition, happened to look up from the glossy pages after taking a bite of his pickle loaf and cheese sandwich to see none other than his recently stolen camper shell on the street below fastened to the bed of some dirty rotten scoundrel’s beater Ford pickup.

Well I tell you, this raised the Chief’s hackles in such a way that only blood and hide could satisfy, so he grabbed his city issue Motorola handy talkie and called next door, yes right next door, to the Golden Chief of Police (a dear friend and golfing partner) and quickly told him what he was seeing and asked him to send a few of his boys out PRONTO to nab this blatant felon who had the audacity to not only steal his fine $300 aluminum camper shell, but to then FLAUNT it by driving by the Chief’s office in BROAD DAYLIGHT.

So there in front of the City Center, my cousin Cal was promptly pulled over at gunpoint by 3 cruisers and 6 of Golden’s finest. Cal proclaimed innocence at first but when the Fire Chief inserted his key into the back window and it worked that was all she wrote. It was not with gentle hands that he was frisked, cuffed, and hauled off the approximately 75 feet to the Golden Crowbar Hotel…which was next door to the Fire Department, but I may have mentioned that. And his truck was promptly whisked away to impound, but not before the Fire Chief had it pulled into the pumper bay of his very own Fire House, and had two of his men remove his $300 camper shell from the felonious miscreants vehicle. This normally would be considered mishandling of evidence, but the Police Chief and he were buddies, which I may have already mentioned also.

In my experience the jurisprudence system is a sticky icky thing and if there is any advice to pass on to youngsters it would certainly be, “never let them get their meat hooks into you”, as extrication from legal matters is a slow, painful and expensive process. Calvin to his credit did not rat out the brothers, possibly out of fear of being murdered and dismembered, and took the punishment without whimper or whine which in this case, being pleaded to a misdemeanor and as a first offender, would have ended with fine and court costs.

However the nice men in blue had noticed a few empty beer cans on the floorboards of Cal’s beater pickup so the Judge, who interestingly was also a golfing partner of both the Fire and Police Chief, felt a short semester in Drug and Alcohol Class would be a good thing for the young lad. And this was where my dear Cousin Cal’s penchant for burning the candle at both ends and in the middle brought him grief in the truest sense. Because after a hard day of mowing lawns which was his occupation at the time, he pulled into the parking lot of the Jefferson County Rehab Classroom and took two manly glugs from a bottle of Wild Turkey 101 and then washed it down with a fat toasty doob before striding in head held high and bellowing out “I’m here!”.

And indeed he was, because unbeknownst to him the absolute very _first_ thing they do when one reports for Drug and Alcohol class is accompany the wink wink “student” to the semi-privacy of the lavatory for an impromptu “Whiz Quiz”. A week later Calvin’s counselor Larry told him that was the most impressive Whiz Quiz Score that Larry had ever seen in his many years of counseling and that Cal’s initial 6 week set of introductory classes would be extended as long as it took to get those numbers zeroed or at least back on the chart.

It was 3 years later when Cousin Cal was finally booted from the program, not graduated exactly, but Larry was just damned well tired of seeing him and walking together hand in hand on a weekly basis to the men’s room for the Whiz Quiz which in 152 instantiations had shown clean exactly never. And for Cal’s part, figuring the initial $100 to the brothers, lawyer’s fees, the impound charge, the $500 fine, and the $3000 in testing costs, he could have skipped the trip to see the brothers and gone out and bought himself a brand new pickup truck with sparkly new camper shell and come out way ahead on the deal.

But, Cousin Cal, like the Tina Turner song, always seemed to like things rough.


5 thoughts on “Cal Buys a Camper Shell

  1. Thanks Eliza, and no Cal rode himself hard and definitely put himself up wet until he finally bit the big bodego at 51. That happens when enough doesn’t quite do it and too much always feels just right.

    I still miss the big dummy, but he lived life _exactly_ as he wanted to and I suppose there’s some merit in that, selfish though it might have been.

  2. Excuse me, we came in through the other door. Somehow landed in the middle of Cal’s life story. More surprisingly, because every family has the rich, the poor and the Cals, was listening to the storyteller’s voice. We are hoping there are many more stories to read, yet. — The Healing Garden gardener

    • Well thank you anonymous high altitude gardener with the cool little flop mop dogs (Lhasa and Shi-Poo?…I’m nuts for dogs). No excuses necessary. There are many more stories, I hope you’re patient enough to wait for the lazy tourist voice to sit down and write them!

      • Lhasa. Registered medical alert service animals. Theodore is 20 years one month. Sehren, six years. We can wait a bit, but you might hurry up on any dog stories for Teddy. — The Healing Garden gardener

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