Author: Cornish, Rick

When will this senseless war end?

Good Tuesday morning from Whiskey Creek, where an innocent teenager will soon begin the first of two of the longest days of his young life. Dylan will be taking charge of our four dogs while Lynn and I rush to Santa Cruz to meet Lucy, our barely eight hours old new granddaughter. Pray for Dylan. Keep him in your thoughts.

Well, I didn’t have to spend too much time in the old memory vaults to find a rejoinder to J.D. Rhynes’ testimonial to the practical joke in his Welcome column last week. I guess I have just one thing to add to my pal’s ode to this age-old tradition among good friends—practical jokes are at their most delicious when served with that sweetest, creamiest and most satisfying of all toppings, revenge.

It was the Tuesday before the Thursday that Fathers Day Festival 2006 would begin. Evening time, and J.D. Rhynes and I were making the rounds on my golf cart, stopping at this camp and that camp, saying hello to folks neither of us had seen through the cold winter. At a few stops I pulled out my fiddle, which I had securely stowed in the back of the cart, and joined in the fun. It was all fun, all very Grass Valley. Just as the sun was setting I drove back to J.D.’s camp to drop him off and we found Don Evans there. The three of us drank a cold beer or two and then I headed back to my campsite at the foot of Quaker Hill (below the Gazebo). As I got out of the cart and reached for my fiddle case, I realized with a start that it wasn’t there. Instant panic attack. My heart was pounding, my head beat like a tom-tom. My God, I thought, my fiddle had somehow fallen off the golf cart.

I immediately grabbed a flashlight and, on foot headed back to the last encampment at which I’d played my fiddle. (My fiddle had recently been appraised at $6,000.) No one had seen it. Everyone I spoke with grabbed a flashlight and helped look. It’s hard to express in words what that fiddle meant to me; it could have been a $200 instrument and I’d have loved it as much. Twenty years I’d been playing it.

Okay, it must have fallen out of the cart on the way back to J.D.’s, or from there, on the way back to my camp. With flashlight in hand I scoured every inch of gravel roadway back to J.D.’s. He and Don were still there, sitting at a camp table talking. I told them in a panic what had happened. “Nope, we ain’t seen it, have we J.D.” “Nope,” he replied. I continued on back to my campsite, slowy shining the light on the ground. Nothing. Then it struck, like a bolt of lightening. I jumped on my golf cart and headed back to J.D.’s camp.

“Okay”, I said, “where is it?”

“What, you’re fiddle? Rick, we told you, we don’t know where it is.” Evans sat there expressionlessly.

“Bull,” I said. “BULL! I know you guys and your practical jokes. I had that fiddle case wedged in the back of the cart. It couldn’t have bounced off. Somebody took it off.”

“You mean, stole it? You think somebody stole it,” asked J.D. in horrified disbelief.

“You know exactly what I mean, J.D., now give me my damned fiddle. This isn’t funny anymore. Never was. That fiddle means a lot to me.”

We stood there for maybe five minutes, him swearing he didn’t take it, telling me he was sure it would show up, me not buying it one bit. I’d been around this track with J.D. too many times to be taken in. But when finally I went back to my camp anger morphed back into panic, then depression and then grieving. That was it, I thought. That HAD to be it. Someone had stolen my violin. I would never see it again.

Then about twenty minutes latter, here comes J.D. Rhynes walking in my direction, carrying my fiddle case.

“You son of a…

“Wait a second, partner, it ain’t what you think. Some kid come by carrying the case. Said he found it on the road…was lookin’ for its owner.”

I was furious. “Sure, J.D. some kid found it. Just happened to bring it by YOUR camp site.”

“Well, that’s the way it happened, pard.”

“Look,” I said, “I don’t want to talk about this anymore. Just know this, J.D.—when you least expect it, some where far enough down the road that you won’t be on your guard, I’ll make this little practical joke of yours seem like a birthday present.”

With that J.D. shook his head and walked slowly back toward his camp.

It’s was two weeks before Memorial Day weekend, 2007, Strawberry weekend, and J.D. calls me. He’s giddy, giggling like a schoolboy.

“You won’t believe this one,” he says, and breaks out laughing and has trouble stopping. “You know how Darby is a’ scared to death of bears” (Everybody who knows Darby is aware of her phobia—kind of real life Stephen Colbert.) “Well, this morning I sent her an e-mail with a made up story I said I found on the Internet about the Yosemite Park rangers shooting two bears right around Camp Mathers (home of the Strawberry Festival). They shot one dead, I told her, but the other one got away and they haven’t been able to find it. She fell for it hook, line and sinker. ‘J.D., she says, ‘they’ll certainly find the wounded bear before next week, won’t they.’

“Well,” I says,” honey, you just never know. Them bears are smart critters. And they’re mean when their hurt.”

“Good one,” I said laughing, “you got her good.” And instantly I knew I had him. I didn’t quite know all the particulars yet, hadn’t worked out a plan, but I knew I had him.

“So I’m gonna make a big sign that says, “CAUTION, WILD WOUNDED BEAR AREA” and put it smack in the middle of Camp Spam. Is this a good one or what?”

Over the next couple days J.D. blind copied me on a few more e-mails he sent to Darby…he was building up the bear story, embellishing it, giving it, as he put it, legs. And he was forwarding her responses to me, proud of the growing terror in each.

Our friend was clearly worried. The day Darby and Bruno were to leave for Strawberry, a Tuesday, I called there home in Oakland. Bruno answered.

“Oh God, Rick, this bear thing has really got my wife uptight. Honest to God, she barely slept last night.” He sighed.

“Well, “I said, “that’s what I’m calling about. Let me speak to her.”

I told Darby the whole story. The missing fiddle joke J.D. and Don Evans had played on me the summer before, the pledge I’d sworn to get even, and finally the made-up bear stories he’d been telling her, how he laughed and laughed and laughed when he told me her reaction.

“That dirty bas…”

“Darby, don’t get mad. Get even. Wanna help me?”

“Are you kidding,” she hissed, “are you frigging kidding? Do I want to help you get even? BRING IT ON!

I went over the plan.

About an hour later, I received a email from J.D.

“Get this,” it read, “here’s an email I just got from Madame President.” (Darby had recently been elected as the CBA’s President.) “‘Dear J.D., I’m writing to let you know that I won’t be seeing you this week after all. You know how much Bruno and I love Strawberry. We haven’t missed in fifteen years. But knowing that they still haven’t caught the wounded bear is just freaking me out. I know, it’s stupid, but I can’t help it. I barely slept last night. Anyway, we’ve had a change in plans. Bruno is going up with Ishi and I’m off to spend a few days with my sister in Fresno. J.D., I really, really, appreciate your keeping me posted on this horrible bear thing. It's that kind of caring and thoughtfulness that means the most in friendships. Friends helping friends. Oh well, there's always the next Strawberry. Love, Darby’ So, can you believe that, partner? She bought it hook-line-and–sinker. Ha, ha, ha, ha. Okay, I’d better call and tell her the truth. This’ll be good.

Five minutes later the phone rang.

“Hey, nephew, what’s you up too,” he began as he had a hundred times before.

“Not much. What’s up?”

“Oh, I need Darby’s cell phone number. I just tried her home phone and got no answer. They must be on their way up to Yosemite. I gotta spill the beans on the big bear joke before she drops Bruno off and heads down to Fresno. What a hoot.”

I gave J.D. the number and we said good-bye. Fifteen minutes later and my phone rings again.

“Hey, are you sure you gave me the right number for Darby? I been callin’ since we hung up and she ain’t answering the damn thing. I know they’re in cell range because the email I got from her was time stamped less than an hour ago. They haven’t been on the road long enough to get out of cell coverage.”

“Hmm,” I said, “let me read it to you again. 510 468 5991.”

“Yep, that’s what you gave me. Damn I can’t figure…”

“Oh, wait,” I interrupted, “that’s her old cell number. Here, take this one down.”

J.D. thanked me, a clear sense of relief in his voice. But ten minutes later he was on the line again.

“Got a number for Bruno? Darby’s not answering that line either.”

“Hang on,” I said, let me find it. I lay the receiver down on my desk and went back to reading the newspaper. Ten minutes later…

“Okay, you still there? Here’s the number,” I said and made up seven random numbers following the Oakland 510 area code. Not even a good by this time…just a click.

Ten minutes later…

“Hell, they ain’t answering that number either,” J.D. said a little breathlessly. “I’m startin’ to get damned worried here. I gotta let Darby in on the practical joke before she drives all the way to Fresno. I’d feel just awful if…hey, is Ishi with them? Do you have a number for him?”

“Hold on while I find the number,” I said and went back to my paper.

Ten minutes later…

“It’s sayin’ the number you gave me for Ishi has been disconnected. My God, pretty soon they’ll be getting into the mountains and out of range. What am I…Hey, what’s Darby’s sister’s name down in Fresno?”

“Ronnie,” I said.

“Ronnie what?”

“Ronnie Sandaker,” I lied, “and her husband’s name is Herb.”

“I guess you don’t got a number?”

“No, no number. But there can’t be too many Ronnie and Herb Sandaker’s in Fresno.

“Right. Okay. By.”

I waited until early evening, well into his cocktail hour, before I called him. I wanted a mellowed J.D. and that’s just what I had when he answered.

“How long,” I asked.

“Oh, not long, not long at all. I asked the information operator for a Herb Sandaker, she asked me to repeat the name, which I did, and the second time, you know, hearin’ my own voice say it, well, that’s all it took. And then the Ronnie hit me and I knew for sure. Not everyone knows that Vincent is Rhonda’s professional name, or that her husband’s name is Herb Sandaker.”

There was a long silence on the phone, and then…

“But, here’s the deal, Ricky. See, I REALLY DIDN’T hide your fiddle on you. It was someone else who did it, someone you’ve never cared for much. I’m not gonna tell you who because I’m afraid you might punch him the first chance you get. But anyway, when he come over to our camp braggin’ about the joke he played on you I gave him what for and that’s when I brought yer fiddle back to you. So, pard, you see, we ain’t even. Not by a long shot. And it’s like you said, nephew… when you least expect it is when it’ll come.
Posted:  3/5/2013

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