My friend and ace gearjammer, Rufus Sideswipe, just got back from an extended tour of the western United States, where the deer certainly still play, even if there aren’t many antelope anymore. After dodging dozens of vaulting venison roasts, Rufus decided to try to even the odds. So he parked his trusty vintage Cornbinder, and with some pals from the co-op, headed West with his trusty rifle to snag some muleys.
With him out of the way, Mrs. Rufus set her own sights on a little road-home improvement, inspired by many nights spent watching home decorating and renovating TV shows. In particular, Mrs. Rufus had become addicted to a program about getting rid of clutter and junk – which for most people means your other half’s stuff.
Usually these shows are about a couple whose bedroom is so full of kids’ toys, collectibles, rumpled clothing and unfinished projects that they have to pile it all on the bed to get to their closet, then throw it back on the floor to have a place to sleep. The show’s ever-perky clean-up team shames them into tossing out 80 percent of the stuff, and then remodels the room until it is utterly characterless and sterile.
Sterile may be what Mrs. Rufus had in mind. The last time she rode with Rufus, she forced him to do some picking up, although he mainly just rearranged the top layers enough so she could wedge herself into the cab.
Fortunately, it is always easier to throw away someone else’s junk than part with your own prized belongings, so she was confident of success. Armed with a box of heavy-duty leaf bags, a carton marked “important” for things like stray receipts, and several containers for Goodwill, she opened the cab door.
Inside, it looked like a recycling center from, well, a very warm and unpleasant place. No surface was unlittered, no cubbyhole uncluttered.
She started with the dashboard, which brimmed with candy bar and gum wrappers, bent and chewed straws, freebie key chains, gnawed pencils and ballpoints, ancient rubber bands, expired shower tickets, exhausted air fresheners, frayed ball caps, coffee-stained crushed plastic foam cups, petrified wads of gum, and dried-out banana peels and apple cores. Mrs. Rufus retreated to the house to get plastic gloves and a dust mask to tackle the over-the-road litter.
Soon she had a 50-gallon bag sagging with the weight of the dashboard dregs. Mixed in with the semi-toxic waste she found enough old gas, toll, repair, meal and other receipts to justify refiling several years’ worth of taxes for substantial refunds. As she finished, the unloaded dash creaked back into its original position, several inches higher than it had been.
The driver’s side floorboard was relatively clear, except for some maps, wrappers and cups, used-up flashlight batteries, a broken “Boss Trucker” belt buckle and a busted Ernest Tubb’s “Greatest Hits” 8-track tape. Rufus never did make the transition to cassettes, although his 8-track player quit years ago.
The passenger side looked like something only an archeologist could love.
By the time she saw the Yosemite Sam floor mat, she had filled more bags to bursting with over-the-road litter that included several broken CB mics, more busted 8-tracks, cracked sunglasses, a wide assortment of mismatched gloves with worn-out fingers, a 10-year collection of dog-eared, oil-smeared road atlases, and 20 or so equally begrimed cowboy paperbacks.
She called it a day, took a long Lysol shower and, fortified with a fitful night of dreaming that truck-sized bacteria were after her, donned her protective gear and entered the sleeper.
I’ll pass over the details – let’s just say that Rufus never liked to do laundry on the road. When she finished all these loads, he wouldn’t need to do laundry again for a long time. She also learned where a lot of her favorite sheets, pillows and blankets had gone, as well as several hundred dollars’ worth of Tupperware and assorted tools, some of them still in working order.
It took her nearly the entire five days Rufus was gone, but when he returned, the Cornbinder was virtually empty. The bedding was fresh, washed and ironed clothes were neatly folded in the cubbies. She had dusted, washed and put Armor All on every surface. Exhausted, she decided not to tell him what she had done, and waited for his reaction.
To her surprise, he didn’t open the truck that night or the next morning. Around noon, the doorbell rang. “I’ll get it,” Rufus hollered. “I bet it’s the man from the ‘Guinness World Records’ – I’m trying to get in for the trashiest truck in America! It’s taken me two years to get ready!”
Bill Hudgins may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.