It was those lights. Those bright fluorescent lights buried in the white ceiling tiles staring straight down on me as I moved my feet back and forth in sheer panic, moving anything that I could on my body that didn’t hurt.
It was those same white lights that always scare me to death as I lay in uncertainty wondering how badly I screwed up now.
Over the past 50 years, I think I could be the poster boy for someone that can manage – under any circumstances or conditions – to somehow find a way to screw things, or myself, up. Especially when things seem to be going good for me, you can almost count on me doing something about it.
So, as I lie here in the urgent care center of the big city hospital in Stoughton, Wis. – home of a former winning car owner of the Hoosier 100, 4 Crown midget and Big Cars, and just about any other important open-wheel race, Hans Lein – I am waiting to be taken to the dreaded Star Wars CT scan machine to decide my fate of thumbs-up or roll bar down.
Earlier in the day I’d strolled inside the electric gates that have the Les Paul guitars arc welded on each side, the grounds of my Evansville, Wis., living quarters and the KO Research & Development Center.
It was a crisp, cool October day, with the nine-foot stalks of corn now devoid of any summer colors. They waved back and forth in the small breeze like they were listening to a Slim Whitman or Boxcar Willie record, awaiting their own demise from the monster corn picker driven by my chief wrench, Paul Tyler.
I raised my binoculars to search for the gate exit and saw my final conquest of the day: a dead oak tree that needed to have a limb lopped off before the real cold set in.
I put on my blue and black checkered flannel shirt, grabbed my chainsaw and 12-foot ladder and headed for this giant oak the size of Johnny Cash when I first saw him as a kid at the Coronado Theater in Rockford, Ill. I headed for this epic battle that I knew would end up with only one winner, either me or the tree.
I have never been known as someone to take a lot of precautions in situations like this. And, once again, since Nancy wisely suggested that I didn’t need to climb any 12-foot ladders or cut down anything right now, I guess I honored that tradition.
I walked up to this wood giant, boldly set the flat ladder on the round tree (without any support or securing it down) and pulled the starting cord approximately 31 times without even a pop before realizing I hadn’t turned the switch to the ON position.
As Nancy still protested my entire involvement in this conquest of man against tree, I finally got the chainsaw started after another 22 pulls and, with the running chainsaw in hand, I took one glance at the enemy in front of me and climbed to the top of the ladder to finish this minor job.
As I was cutting into the great beast, I considered how smoothly this was going and how foolish these people were to think a two-time USAC midget champion and winner of the 1972 “Daytona Stadium Midget Longest Tow Award” couldn’t handle a piece of cake like this job.
However, as the big branch started to creak and maybe move a little, I guess the guy who famous Sun Prairie midget racer Ken Dull would later describe as “the Jerry Lewis of lumberjacking” may have made his first mistake. That ended up putting me under those dreaded lights that I have seen way too many times.
I am not exactly sure what happened next, as different witnesses have opposing views of what they saw. I don’t really remember anything from that moment, but the next thing I can remember is that, in the case of man vs. tree, the idiot man lost that round.
One observer swears that I was sitting on the wrong side of the branch that I was cutting and sawed myself off the limb, but I tend to doubt this theory as I was watching Foghorn Leghorn the other day and he did this exact thing. When the branch fell, he hung in the air for what seemed like a minute and then fell. I probably would have remembered that.
Nancy, on the other hand, said that the branch swung around and knocked me off the ladder (which was still standing when I got home from the hospital some four days later) looking eerily reminiscent of the picture of the Charles Lindbergh baby kidnapping ladder that is in history books.
Anyway, I hit the ground and it felt like I had just been in a steel cage match with my favorite wrestler of all time, Crusher Lisowski. As I tried to roll over, I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to stand, as each movement I made felt like O.J. doing a personal performance on my back.
Nancy was somehow able to load me into her Ford Escape after I had made another one of my great calls: not letting her call 911 as it would cost me money.
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