Wheaton’s Way

We are all trained in the art of asking and answering basic questions.

For example, standards like “How are you?” or “How was your weekend?” are often throwaway enquiries by casual acquaintances. No one really expects an involved answer, and most of us know how to respond. “Fine, thanks! And you?” is pretty typical, even if you’re not or you had a lousy weekend. After all, who wants to hear about that unidentified rash or how you were stood up on a date Saturday night, while they try to pay for their groceries at Foster’s?

Then you’ve got someone like me, who never wants to leave them wanting more. The fact is, I’m always getting myself into one pickle or the next, and my job is to share the stories of those adventures with others.

What did I get up to last week? Oh, I’m so glad you asked…

It all began a week ago Thursday. I was at work, trying to hit a deadline, when a message came through on a WhatsApp group chat of which I’m a member. Someone had seen a hen and her chicks cross the road (insert joke here), and one of the chicks had dropped through a grate. Who could this person call to help?

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Others on the chat started offering names of some authorities, but I was worried they would take too long to get there. I couldn’t concentrate on what I was doing. The thought of that chick being stuck and separated from its mother was stuff of a dark Disney film. I had to get moving myself to see what could be done.

I called the lady and asked for the exact location, then quickly hit the road. I got to the street, found the grate, and even in my car with the windows up, I could hear the chick cheeping from beneath the tarmac.

Luckily, it was one of those grates that could be removed. I had been worried that it was something permanent, and I’d be forced to try and use cooking tongs to extricate the bird.

The grate was a metal square made up of two rectangular sections side-by-side. This would be even easier than I thought. I only had to remove one section to gain access.

It was at this stage that I should have assessed the situation, got back into my car, and driven around the neighbourhood to get reinforcements, but foolishly and with undeserved bravado, I thought I’d do it all on my own. I’d watched too many Angelina Jolie movies.

Locking my fingers into two of the grate holes, I started pulling the piece towards me. It was heavy, but it was shifting.

Unfortunately, it was only when I’d got it to a point of no return – where it was hanging precariously over the chick, the deep-ish hole, and the large plastic pipe up the centre that didn’t belong to me – that I realised just how heavy and unwieldy that grate really was.

“Help,” I said in a small voice, to no one.

There was nothing else for it. I had to keep going or it would go flying down and damage a lot of things of monetary value. I dug in my heels, and pulled not only the grate but my shoulders, muscles I didn’t know I had, arms out of sockets… I managed to trap two fingers in the process, which was not unpainful, and removed a layer of skin. So much for piano lessons.

“Ouch!” I yelped, again, to no one.

After much huffing and puffing, sweating and swearing, I inched the albatross to the point where it was stable and I could release my hold. Through all of this, the chick below, oblivious to my efforts, was just racing back and forth in its prison like Pac-Man, cheeping nonstop. Helpful.

Now I had to figure out how to get it. I couldn’t reach to the bottom of the hole, and I certainly wasn’t going to attempt to remove the other section of grating. I went back to my vehicle and grabbed whatever tools I thought would work. These included a golf umbrella and soft cat carrier.

I first tried the umbrella on its own, which was an exercise in futility. I tried to stick it down and open it so the chick could hop in, then I’d close it and bring it back out, but the umbrella was too big and the chick was uncooperative. Meanwhile, the sun was beating down mercilessly and I had bleeding fingers, sore muscles, and jeans covered in dirt.

Phase 2 of Operation Cheep Freedom had me lying on the road, lowering the cat carrier into the hole and trying to corral the chick into it, using the tip of the closed umbrella. How hilarious would it have been if I’d scared the poor thing into a fatal heart attack?

Anyway, mercifully, after three long minutes, it got the point, and hopped into the carrier. With trembling fingers, I quickly grabbed the handles and lifted it out. As I opened the front, I could hear a hen clucking in a garden nearby. The chick ran to her, and off they went. Mission accomplished.

Now, of course, I had to get the grate back over the hole. I was about to call for help before I made further stupid decisions, but a very nice local lady pulled up in her car and asked if I needed assistance. I didn’t even have time to warn her about the weight of the grate before she was clutching it and moving it into place like it was a simple dustbin lid. With a smile and a “no problem”, she was on her way.

I need to get back to the gym.

You might think that’s the end of my weekend story, but nay. Put down your groceries, they’ll keep.

That same Thursday night, I met friends for happy hour. Knowing I would be indulging in beverages of the fermented persuasion, I walked to Sandbar from my house. That way, I also got some exercise in. Smart. A big Band-Aid covered my ravaged fingers so I could hold a drink. I’d ticked all the boxes.

Our social was only supposed to be a few hours, but it was one of those great nights when the conversation was flowing, the food was tasty, the service was quick… you know what I mean. So, when that place started to quieten down around 10pm, a few of us decided to carry on.

It was like the pub crawls of my youth, where every bar had patrons we knew and hadn’t seen in a while – hugs all ‘round. Chelsea’s, Lone Star, Backroom… no drink coaster left unturned. It was only by about 1:30am that I figured I really should be getting home. I informed the stalwarts who had accompanied me on this trip down memory lane, that I was departing. I would walk it.

It should have taken me 10-15 minutes, if I’d walked a straight line, but for some reason, my balance was slightly off. I wasn’t tacking along the pavement, but there was definitely some meandering and weaving going on. I was aware of it. In fact, I kept stopping and having a word with myself, resolving to sort this nonsense, only to set off and have it happen again. I tried walking faster – that didn’t help. I slowed down again.

At one point near my house, I over-corrected with gusto and fell sideways into a chicken wire fence. Apparently, what with one thing and another that day, ‘Sesame Street’ had been brought to me by the word ‘chicken’.

I got home and ate a lot of food, accompanied by multiple glasses of water. Those, and some preemptive-strike Advil, are no doubt what saved me from a very miserable Friday morning.

When I woke up the next day, I thought back to the night before, and was so grateful that there had been minimal cars on the road. Hopefully, with my big hair in a bun and limited street lighting, no late-night drivers had recognised the moonlit stumbler. There’s a country song in there somewhere; what rhymes with ‘stumbler’?

I was happy to admit that it had been nice to feel young and silly again, but that lasted fewer than 24 hours. I hosted karaoke at Fidel’s on Friday night, and called up a man to sing.

“Sir, you’re next,” I announced over the microphone.

“You shouldn’t be calling me ‘sir’,” he replied, “you’re older than me.”

Just, wow. Believe it or not, he is still alive and walks the Earth.

Once in a while, it’s nice to revisit the fun of days gone by, but it’s not something I’d like to repeat on a regular basis. That being said, I did go out on Saturday night as well. BAND AID 2 at Macabuca was awesome.

I’m running out of word count here, so you’re saved from further storytelling, but if you don’t want to hear the rest, you should avoid me at the supermarket. You have been warned.

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