Three Brushes with Death

I guess anyone can say they've had a close brush with death and mean it.  I think I've had three but I really don't know for sure.  I don't think anyone knows for sure.  I know there were other times when I thought it was close and it ended in a smile. 

One of those childish times was when I made a braided whip out of a single strand #9 copper wire covered with black plastic.  The wire inside the plastic was about as big as a pencil lead.  I was only about ten or eleven so there was no danger.  When it was too cumbersome to use as a whip I tried it out on a telephone pole.  The bare end of that wire snapped back and opened a place on my wrist that made the blood just gush out.  I went running into the house for I'd learned only a short time before that if you get cut on your wrist, your a goner.  This was it.  End of the line.  Well my mother took one look at it, ran it under the water and put a tight band-Aid on it and soon I was back playing with the whip again.  I just didn't whip any more telephone poles.

One of the first times I courted disaster I was in high school and working at the Shell station in my hometown of Glendale .  Hal owned the station and used to hire several different guys, including myself, to help him out and that helped us out.  It was a station that fixed flats, did oil changes and grease jobs, the whole "enchilada".  Today these are called full service stations.  Then there was nothing but full service stations.  

Hal and I had just finished a grease job and oil change on a crummy.  A crummy is what the loggers use to go to the woods.  This crummy was a pickup with two bench seats and four doors.  It was almost closing time when Hal told me to get in and start the truck and we'd check our work for oil leaks around the filter.  I got in the truck, started it, and waited.  As I was waiting I saw a pistol hanging from a holster over the front seat next to me.  I'd been around all kinds of guns all my life so I took the pistol out of the holster and was looking at it.  All of a sudden it exploded.  Actually all it did was go off but at the time it seemed much worse.  Thanks goodness the door to the truck was open, for I expect that saved my hearing.  The bullet missed my leg by about four inches.  It went into the seat and came back out, through the floor board, through the top of the transmission and into the transmission.  

Hal had a terrible headache when he hit his head on the hood.  He and I were thankful I was relatively OK.  We found out that the fellow that owned the crummy was a little strange.  The .357 pistol had been filed to a "hair trigger" so he could shoot rabbits along the logging roads as he drove along.  

I paid to have the transmission pulled out and inspected.  It was fine and I got the slug back as a souvenir.  Hal was very nice about the whole matter and I got to keep working at the station.  When I go to Glendale I still go by the station and he's still there.  We always laugh about me shooting the transmission out of the crummy.   

My second brush with death occurred after working all night at the plywood plant.  I worked there when I came home from college during Christmas break, spring break, and after summer school before fall.  Because the boss knew I could use the money for school he'd let me work a double shift it he was short handed.  The jobs were tough but I enjoyed being around men that worked with their hands…especially after a few months at school.  

I don't remember whether I had worked a double shift of 16 hours this particular night but it is entirely possible.  One of the other fellows couldn't get his car started because it had a dead battery.  The car had an automatic transmission so they decided to push it with another car up to about 30 or 35 miles per hour to get it started.  As I look back upon this I still don't know why someone didn't get a pair of jumper cables.  Nevertheless, they decided to push the dead car with the live one.  The bumpers didn't match so they asked me if I would climb on the trunk of the dead car and stand on the bumper.  I don't remember if anyone else did it as well.  I do remember going down this little used piece of pavement clinging to this car's trunk and trying to keep the bumpers level.  Well finally the dead car's motor caught and that car pulled away from the other one.  Unfortunately it also pulled away from me.  Try as I might I couldn't help from tumbling onto the edge of the road where I tumbled, and tumbled and tumbled, until I came to a stop in a heap.  I have no idea how the live car behind stopped from running over me.  I do know that I stood up, brushed myself off and walked over to my own car to go home.  I remember being very sore for a couple of days but I don't remember how badly I was scratched or scrapped.  I think one of the reason I didn't get hurt worse was that I was so tired from working that I was like a drunk.  Of course if I hadn't have been so tired when the guys asked me to do this I probably would have said, "No Thanks!" and gone home to bed.  

Several years later I was living in Phoenix .  I owned an investment firm with another fellow but I was also a member of the Maricopa County Sheriff Divers Posse.  I had learned to scuba dive in northern Florida when I first came in the Air Force.  Diving in the lakes and rivers around Arizona for drowning victims was gruesome work but the members of our group were a great bunch.   

One day I got a call from Pat asking me if I wanted to earn some money.  Someone had their fancy speedboat up on Apache Lake when it had suddenly filled with water and sank.  The insurance company would pay good money for us to find and bring the boat back up.  We had taken jobs like this before with mixed success.  People who see an object sink can never agree exactly where it happened on a body of water.  Two people watching the same event will give you widely conflicting locations.   

Pat was recovering from a hernia operation but would work topside while another fellow and I did the diving.  We got all our gear up to the pontoon boat and set out for where the owner and his wife said the boat went down.  

Diving in Arizona lakes is like being in a very, very dark room.  You literally can not see your hand in front of your face.  You can't see images or outlines--nothing but total darkness.  This is because the algae in the fresh water blocks out all the light from above when you get deeper than about 5-10.  The dive on the lost boat would be about 75-80 feet.  

With only two divers, the search pattern would be to have one diver remain on an anchor point while the other diver, connected by a twenty foot rope to the anchor point, swam in a big circle all the way around the point.  If the swimming diver ran into the boat, or anything else of value he'd give two tugs on the rope and then tie the rope to the boat.  After completing a circle and finding nothing, the diver at the anchor point would give two tugs and we would go up to the surface and move the operation to nearby location.  

I don't remember how many sweeps we made but on the last one I was out on the end of the rope.  The bottom had turned into several feet of soupy mud.  You couldn't swim or walk through it, but when you tried to stay above it you would slowly sink.  You couldn't see it because of the darkness but you could feel a constant weight pulling on your arms and legs when you tried to swim.  As I swam and crawled through this muck I stopped keeping the rope tight with my partner at the anchor point.  I was less than 20 feet from him but didn't realize it.  After what seemed like hours but was only minutes I began to panic.  I hadn't received a tug on the rope and I was sure it should have happened.  I lost direction and develop a complete case of vertigo.  I didn't know which way was up.  When this happens in water where you can see, your bubbles will show you the direction of up by rising.  But here in the darkness you had nothing to aid you.  Finally in desperation I dropped the rope and pulled the handle on my inflatable vest.  I shot to the surface like I'd been fired from a cannon.  In a matter of seconds I broke the surface like Namu the killer whale at SeaWorld.  As I popped to the surface Pat reached out and pulled me onto the pontoon boat.  Unfortunately, the violent manner in which he grabbed me caused him to re-injure his hernia.  

The other diver came right up behind me worried that I wasn't on the end of his rope any more.  They were concerned that I might have developed a case of air embolism which occurs when you rise too quickly without letting air out.  I told them I was fine but they insisted on me staying flat on my back.  Pat called an ambulance that took all of us to the airport at Falcon field and we all went for a plane ride in a pressurized airplane to San Diego .  San Diego was the nearest decompression chamber.  I continued to insist I was fine but they insisted I might not know if I was hurt and if I did have an air bubble in my body and I stood up it would go to my head and cause a stroke or death.  When we got to the Navy decompression chamber a Navy doctor examined me and determined that I was fine and that I didn't need the chamber.  We spent the night on board the ship with the decompression chamber and the next day returned home.  The plane ride home was nicer than the one over.  We never did find the boat.  

I dove many more times over the eight years I was part of the Posse.  Once we swam into an airplane in 85 feet of water and removed the pilot.  Several times we swam on the bottom of the Salt River all the way down the river just like someone would float it in an inner tube.  Someone would get so drunk that they would fall off their inner tube and never come back up.  Our job was to find them.  You could lie on the bottom of the most turbulent rapids and see the water churning above you.  We always came back with hand fulls of sunglasses and hemostats when we worked the river.  The floaters on the inner tubes would lose their sunglasses and the hemostats were used by many of the marijuana smokers on the river.  Pat and I got our picture in True Detective magazine.  A little girl was missing in Phoenix   and they asked us to check drainage pipes out on the west side of town.  Our picture was taken coming out of one of the pipes and appeared first in the local newspaper and then a few months later in the magazine.  My Dad always had fun telling people his son was in True Detective magazine and then tell them the story.  

Perhaps there are other times I've had a close brush with death and didn't know it.  It's probably just as well.