When I was a kid, Don Winslow of the Coast Guard was a big matinee kahuna. His Hollywood adventures led every red-blooded American boy to believe that anyone could grow up to be a super hero. And if he didn’t grow up, he could be a president.
There was one particular episode that really tweaked my imagination. Winslow put on a deep sea diving suit and walked into San Francisco Bay and actually attached grenades to a Nazi U-boat, which brought about another glorious victory in the never-ending struggle against crew cuts and heel-clicking salutes.
Frankly I was a little taken back to find Germans on the West Coast, but I loved the exploit. I spent the entire weekend reliving it with my friend Smooth Heine.
All of which just naturally brings up the subject of the old water works on the edge of my hometown. They were a half dozen deep pools scattered over an acre, dug to hold ground water seeping from the town’s nearby river, Clear Creek, which was not.
But by the time Smooth and I came along, the water works had been long abandoned and was little more than a boggy bunch of ponds used mainly for skinny dipping and frog hunting. A farmer leased them for $3 a year to water his milk cows.
But Smooth developed a plan, as he was prone to do in those days. He said, “No telling how much treasure is on the bottom of those ponds. All we need is a diving outfit like Winslow’s, and we’ll get rich enough to have Walnetos for life.”
Without hesitation we turned to that fount of all knowledge, our vast collection of Dell Comic Books, and found a colorful rendition of underwater gear, which led us to construct our own. We garnered a tin bucket for a helmet, garden hose and a bicycle pump for air, bricks as sinkers, and my father’s yellow rubber coveralls as a wet suit.
Finally at water’s edge came The Moment of Truth. (Dramatic background music heard here.) Smooth told me, “Don’t panic. I’ll keep pumping air to you no matter what. If anything goes wrong, just kick off the bricks and swim to the surface.”
“Whoa!” I said. “How come YOU get to pump air to ME? How about ME pumping air to YOU?”
Smooth looked astonished. The notion had never occurred to him. But he shook his head and said, “Let’s not quibble. Time and treasure wait for no man.”
I should explain here that the infrastructure of our friendship was secured by rickety rivets. In other words Smooth always emerged the leader while I remained the grunt. I think he took on this role because he once killed a rabid skunk with his sister’s clarinet, an act of extreme intelligence which nobody could deny.
So a few minutes later I found myself stepping into a deep pool with a bucket over my head and garden hose trailing behind. Bricks strapped to my ankles pulled me down, and my father’s taped-shut rubber coveralls swelled with trapped air. At that moment I had only one worry — how to keep water out of the bucket.
Imagine my surprise when the air pumped through the garden hose and into the bucket blocked the rising water just short of my nose. Amazing, I thought. It’s working.
But there was another minor concern — I couldn’t see. Put a bucket over your head, and you’ll note this phenomenon. All I could do was look down at my dad’s swollen yellow coveralls, and when I did, I got a snoot full of water and choked.
That’s when I panicked and frantically ripped the bricks off my ankles.
A half dozen milk cows took that particular moment to come to our pond for a drink. But when they leaned over the water, I suddenly bobbed to the surface in a gigantic and dramatic explosion of stinky water, friction tape, yellow coveralls, garden hose, and frightened frogs.
The look in the cows’ eyes said, “EEAAGH! — THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON!” My screams and thrashing about added a touch of melodrama.
Don’t let anyone tell you mother cows can’t stand on their hind legs and run like Jesse Owens given the proper stimulus. The farmer later said his entire herd refused to drink at the old water works anymore. He didn’t know why. He was paying too much for the lease anyway.
Bob Huber is a retired journalist living in Portales.