Friday, December 26, 2014

RANGERING: March 2006 (4)


Dear Reader: The truth is never an absolute; it is subjective and it changes over time. So I do not claim that any of what I write is the truth. It is only my perception and recollection of events as they happened years ago. In some situations I have changed names and details to protect the privacy of people involved.

NOTE: I will never write about upsetting details without a warning.


When I’d moved into the ranger house all of the faucets dripped. My dad had shown me some repairs I could do with the washer/dryer faucets. We’d turned off the water, removed the faucets, and replaced the worn washers with new ones. The metal the washers sat on also had grooves worn into them, so even a new washer would not make a good seal. We’d used a tool from the park that fit onto the top, and by twisting it around and around, you could file down the metal seat until it was flat and smooth.

So that was my plan for the guest bathroom. But to my dismay, I was unable to turn the water off. The pipes were old and rusty, and when I tried to turn off the valve they moved alarmingly; and the valve did not. Being a novice plumber, I’d exhausted my personal resources and had to call it quits.



When I went into work the next day I saw Jim struggling at the computer filling out monthly reports – daily recordings from car counters at our day use and main park entrance, and daily camping attendance categorized by sites with utility hookups, no hookups, and hiker/biker (bicyclist). While Jim could build or repair just about anything, it was clear that the computer was not his forte.


He looked up. “Well hello there, Kjerstin,” he said cheerily.

“Hello there, Jim. Looks like you’re just zooming through those reports.”

Jim threw down the paper in his hand with emphasis, grumbling about how frustrating the forms were and how distasteful it was that he had to do them. And just like that my solution presented itself.

“I’d like to propose a trade,” I said. He cocked his head. “I need some plumbing help. My bathroom faucets are dripping, and the pipes are rusty and I can’t even get the water turned off. In exchange for your help, I can help with these reports. You dictate to me and I’ll type them.”

“Well, how ‘bout that. So you’d type up the report for me, huh?”

“Yup. Trust me, it’ll go fast.”

He looked in disgust at the computer, then at his handwritten notes, and pushed them aside with finality. “Let’s go then.”



The leaky faucets turned into a bigger project, as plumbing projects are wont to do. Jim was also wary about the stuck valve under the sink and the groaning pipes, so we turned the water off at an outside valve. The washers and metal seat were corroded and grooved as expected. In fact as we disassembled the faucets to get to the washers, the faucets practically crumbled in our hands.

“I think it’s time for you to buy new faucets, Kjerstin.”


A benefit of living in park housing was that not only were Jim and I paid for the time making repairs, and able to use park tools for the job, but with prior approval the park would also purchase replacement parts. That did mean, however, that the project would not be completed today.

Jim removed the J-shaped pipe under the sink that he called a pee trap (where people’s rings that fall down the drain are hopefully recovered from), and a stench rose as he emptied the clumps of dark slimy gunk into a bucket.


“Nice,” I commented.

“Hungry?” he asked, offering me the bucket.

Unfortunately there was no valuable jewelry hidden in the stinky munk, but this pipe too was corroding on the bottom where all the sludge had been sitting. By now I had quite a list of items to buy.

We cleaned up, wiping off tools and replacing them in the plumbing tool box, using rags and old towels to clean up the muck and throwing them straight into my washing machine and starting a cycle.


We decided to break for lunch, after which I ambled over to the office. Pretty soon Jim came in and we convened around the computer. As he read off numbers from his log, I typed them into the correct day of the month and then tabbed over to the next spot. “Faster,” I said, my fingers hovering impatiently.

We went to the next form, and again I had to encourage him to speed up. He looked up at me, then hastily back to his notes.

One of the reports required a couple paragraphs describing any planned or unplanned activities. He didn’t have notes written up for these. Jim thought a moment, then started speaking. My fingers flew, only a couple times requiring him to repeat himself. He paused, my fingers caught up, then hovered in wait. He was still quiet, and I looked at him sidelong.

His eyes were bugging out, and he blinked them rapidly. I wondered if his eyeballs had gotten stuck in the “open wide” position. His gaze was fixed on my hands.

“Wow, Kjerstin, that’s fast.”

I smiled.

“How fast is that?”

“That I type? Last time I took a typing test it was 80 words a minute. Some people can type a lot faster, but I can move along pretty well.”

“Well, how ‘bout that. I don’t think you really need to go to academy. Next time a camper is causing problems, you’ve already got your weapons.” He grabbed one of my hands and held it up. “Your little wizard fingers, typing on his eyeballs!” He jiggled my hand.

I laughed. “That’s my defense?”

“Right! No need for pepper spray, you’ll just type on someone’s eyeballs!”

“That’s hilarious.”

“Sir, it’s after quiet hours and you’re going to need to keep it down over there. Otherwise I’m going to type on your eyeballs.”

I’d taken typing lessons in seventh grade. As soon as my fingers learned where the keys were, they took over. Thinking about what I was typing, what the words strung together meant, or what letters spelled a word, slowed me down. My fingers knew. They mainlined the data, taking it directly from my eyes or ears and rat-a-tat-tatting onto the keyboard, bypassing any conscious brain activity or interpretation. My brain, however, started an irritating activity that continues to this day.

When I hear a word, when I’m not at a typewriter, I type out the word in my head, looking for a pattern. Equally numbered keystrokes from both the right hand and the left are preferred. Or descending: four-right, three-left, two-right. Or all even: two-right, two-left, four-right. After first learning to type, this brain activity was compulsive and relentless. I would wake from dreams, irritated to find my brain was typing frantically:

Freaky: 4L, 2R
Clown: 1L, 2R, 1L, 1R
Chasing: 1L, 1R, 2L, 2R, 1L
Kjerstin: 2R, 4L, 2R (good pattern!)

Now, three decades later, it’s background chatter. But I still notice delight when my brain types out a good pattern, as if bells are dinging a jackpot win.

So all that mindless brain chatter, and the fast flight of my ten digits, has brought me an unexpected boon: a way to subdue the unruly camper by typing on his eyeballs until he surrenders in pain and fright.




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