Challenging the Red Line of Death

The sun crested the Cascade Mountains at 5:08 a.m. on Saturday, June 8th. It rays spread across Gig Harbor, Washington.

I opened my right eye as far a my allergy swollen lid would allow. My husband, Richard, moved like a thief to the window. With the elegance of a cat stretching, he opened the blinds. The illegal sunlight streamed into our room, irradiated the dust, and sent a blinding ray on a collision course for my face.

Groaning, I pulled the covers over my head.

“Fannie, you promised you would get up and help me this morning,” Richard said, pulling the covers away from my head.

I glanced at the clock. “I didn’t say I’d get up at the butt crack of dawn,” I said, pulling the covers back over my head. “Didn’t we agree on 6:30?” I asked through the covers.

The pillow slid out from underneath my head.

“In your dreams,” Richard said, putting my pillow on the night stand. “We said 5:30. And I know if I don’t start now, you won’t be out of bed until seven.”

Richard pulled the blanket back letting cold air rush in and two orange tabbies scramble out.

“Mornings should be outlawed,” I said. Sliding out of our pedestal sleigh bed and down the two steps to the floor, my zombie avatar dragged my feet, in blue wool socks, the ten steps to the bathroom.

“I think it’s your hair that should be outlawed. You look like a Cyndi Lauper video from the 80’s only with brown hair,” Richard said, stifling a laugh.

“Ha, ha, very funny,” I said. Until I reached the bathroom. Oh.

Fifteen minutes later I shuffled into the kitchen and sat on a bar stool at the kitchen counter. Richard handed me a steaming mug of hot coffee and pain of chocolat.  A surprise breakfast treat. Nothing like chocolate to take the edge off morning.

“George has designed a test track we’ll be using today to work out all the kinks,” Richard said, “I promised him we would be there early to help with set up.”

“Just feed me coffee and I’ll survive until actual morning arrives,” I said, licking the chocolate from my fingers. “Oh, I forgot to tell you, your mom sent the bomber jacket. It arrived yesterday. I put it on your desk.”

Richard knocked the bar stool over on his way to the office. A whistle escaped his lips. He walked back into the kitchen holding up a miniature brown leather bomber jacket complete with ribbed sleeves and a tiny patch with wings on the right side of the chest and a mini letter ‘A’ on the left.

“This is so cool,” he said. “Where’s Alvin? I have to get this on him.”

“I’m sure he’s still in the garage where you left him,” I said, laughing.

With mug in hand, I followed Richard to the garage. On the work bench sat a highly polished vintage chrome Black and Decker U-346 Professional Belt Sander. Leaning against the sander sat a six inch plush chipmunk, Alvin, wearing a leather flying helmet with ear holes, and goggles.

Richard picked up the chipmunk. The jacket matched the leather helmet. Richard slid the jacket onto the chipmunk. He pulled the sleeves over his paws and adjusted the collar and scarf. Smiling, he held Alvin up.

“Meet our secret weapon,” Richard said, with his devilish grin. “I’d like to see Knowlan top that.”

Richard secured Alvin to the handle of the belt sander and attached a miniature airplane steering wheel using floral wire.

“Does it look like anything is hanging over the sides?” he asked stepping back to check his work.

“No, I think he looks fine,” I said. “You’re mom did a fantastic job on that jacket, I wonder how long it took her?”

“I don’t know, but you’ll have to send her a thank you note,” Richard said.

Ten minutes later I rang George and Bunny’s doorbell. Bunny answered the door.

“Good morning, you two,” she said with her refined Texas accent. Her long blond hair pulled into a pony tail, crowning her statuesque figure. “I see your ready for our trial run,” she said pointing to the belt sander Richard carried. “Follow me.”

Bunny lead us to the back yard. A belt sander sat on the deck table. A miniature geodesic dome sat on top with a plastic rat propped up through the top holding a vanilla ice cream cone.

I tapped Bunny on the arm. “Bunny what is that supposed to be?” I asked.

“An engineer’s sense of humor. George named it A.R.I.T.H.M.E.T.I.C.,” Bunny said laughing. “It stands for A Rat In Tom’s House Might Eat Tom’s Ice Cream. It’s how George learned to spell when he was growing up. And it’s aerodynamic.”

We crossed the deck and stepped down the three steps into Gutierrez’s Acre. Perfectly trimmed and edged Bermuda grass rolled out like a putting green. Border plants filled in along the fence running the length of the yard and ending at a blue and white barn-style shed with the Dallas Cowboys logo painted above the door. The paint job matched their house. George backed out of the shed pulling a cart which contain long planks of fir plywood, melamine planks and a foam back stop rested on top.

“Richard, Fannie, you’re right on time,” George said, with his soft spoken Texas accent a contrast to the bass voice emanating from his lineman’s frame. A pencil thin black mustache and goatee framing his mouth. “Fannie, darling, thank you for making the monumental effort of getting up this early. I know the sacrifice it must have been for you.”

Richard stifled a snort.

Since my eyes would not open enough yet to send a scathing glance in Richard’s direction, I said, “George, it’s my pleasure.”

The doorbell rang again. Bunny excused herself.

“Richard, if you will help me unload this cart. I’ve marked all of the boards in the order they are to be assembled,” George said pulling the cart closer to the deck. “I downloaded the track specifications last weekend. We need to make it 45 feet long, minimum.”

Richard whistled. He handed me the belt sander. Bunny returned with Devon and Clarissa Taylor and their son, Zack, in tow.

Clarissa stood next to me. “Geez, Fannie, that looks like one of your dad’s tools,” she said, shaking her head. Her red curls framing her round face. “I thought we agreed to purchase used tools for this.”

Laughing, I said, “We found it at Goodwill. Then I found a website saying they’re selling Jubilee again. Let’s say the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree.”

“I’ll say,” Richard said, laughing, “she spent two days polishing that thing. I was almost afraid to use it. Fun house mirrors freak me out.”

“I’ve got extra Jubilee if you want it,” I said, winking, “they only sell it by the case.”

“Fannie, honey,” Bunny said, “what time are Kissee and Knowlan supposed to be here? I’m dying to meet them.”

“I asked them to be here around 9 a.m. since they’re driving down from Seattle,” I said, smiling.  “However, they really are morning people. And don’t be surprised if they show up with a box from Borracchini’s. Apple fritters are Kissee’s standard hostessing gift.”

“Bora what?” Bunny asked, her pony tail going slightly out of alignment.

“Borracchini’s Bakery, it’s Kissee’s favorite bakery,” I said. “They can whip a cake out like nobody’s business.”

“Yeah, they did the cakes for all three of our weddings,” Clarissa said.


Zack jumped three feet sideways. Pushing his thick strawberry blond hair out of his face, he said, “Sorry, my bad.” He stood over the pile of spilled boards.

George walked over to the pile. He towered over Zack, who now scurried around helping him pick up the pile. George ran his fingers over each piece.

“No damage done,” George said. His shoulders relaxed and his trademark smile return to his face. “Zack, since you’re now full of adrenaline, I’m putting you to work with the melamine.”

The men separated the wood and lined it up in order. Soon the whir of a cordless drill competed with the birds obliterating the morning calm.

“Why don’t we go inside and get more coffee going?” Bunny asked, leading the way into the kitchen.

Clarissa and I sat at the breakfast bar watching the men, while Bunny made the coffee.

Two tracks forming, running parallel the length of the yard. Zack stood between the tracks with a ruler, verifying the distance between them. Richard handed Devon the melamine. Devon held it in place while George attached it to the wood.

Thirty minutes later, George retrieved his laser level. Richard stood by the start line holding up Zack’s ruler. George got down on his knees. He aimed the laser at the ruler.

Richard groaned.  “We’re off by one-half inch.”

George pulled out a box of wood shims. He handed the box to Devon. Then directed Devon and Zack on the shim placement.

Fifteen pain staking minutes later, they verified the track. Using a tape measure and black marker, George marked the finish line.

George handed Zack the padding for the end of the track and showed him how to stake it down.

He gave Devon the red caution tape and stakes.

“You’ve got the ‘Red Line of Death’ duty. We need six feet on both sides of the track,” George said, handing him the tape measure.

George and Richard walked back into the shed with the cart. Five minutes later the returned with a box mounted control panel with red, yellow and green lights mounted on top, extension cords, two small speakers and an aluminum frame arch with checkered flags attached to each side.

As they were setting up the arch over the finish line, the doorbell rang.

Clarissa and I followed Bunny to the front door.

Knowlan and Kissee Rose filled the entry way.

Kissee wore a Mariner’s baseball cap keeping her thick brown hair contained. No make-up graced her China doll face this morning. Her intelligent brown eyes danced with mischief. She held the Borracchini signature pink pastry box. The smell of apple fritters filled the entryway.

Knowlan, two inches taller than his wife at six feet seven inches, wore a matching baseball cap his brown curly hair visible below the brim. He held a cardboard box. A plush Simon peered through his round spectacles over the top of the box.

Bunny’s pony tail did the happy dance as she shook Kissee’s hand. “You must be Kissee, I’m Bunny Gutierrez,” she said, her grin creating double stacking dimples. Her blue eyes sparkling. “And you must be Knowlan,” she said shaking his hand.  “Come in, come in.”

“Well, I guess there’s no doubt you’re a Dallas fan,” Knowlan said, smiling. “Made it really easy to spot your house.”

Bunny laughed.

Kissee handed the box of pastries to Bunny. “I thought we’d bring a little something to keep us going this morning,” she said, “if you’ve never tried Borracchini’s then you’re in for a real treat.”

Bunny took the box of pastries. I stood on my tiptoes giving Kissee and Knowlan hugs, they met me halfway. Clarissa only had to stretch a little. After our round of hugs, Bunny lead the way into the kitchen.

“We’ve got coffee ready and everyone else is in back setting up the race course,” she said, passing out mugs. “Feel free to help yourselves.”

Knowlan waited long enough for the coffee to fill his mug before he was out the door joining the guys.

Laughing, Kissee said, “He can’t wait to see Richard’s face when he shows him his belt sander.”

“I saw Simon peaking over the top of the box,” I said, picking up an apple fritter, “what else did you do?”

“He wired miniature speakers to the belt sander and rigged a mini sound system,” Kissee said, shaking her head. “When the belt sander is energized, it plays the last lines from the song, Witch Doctor. You know the part that goes, oo-ee, oo-ah-ah, ting-tang, walla-walla, bing-bang.” Laughing, she said, “It was like he was ten-years-old again. I’ve never seen him this excited.”

Bunny filled an insulated carafe with coffee. She put the box of pastries on a tray along with the coffee and handed me a tray of mugs to carry. As we walked out onto the deck, the guys were hooking up the electrical cables to the control panel.

George hooked up the speakers to the panel and plugged in a microphone. Richard plugged the extension cord into the outlet next to the french doors. George nodded. Richard flipped the switch for the outlet.

George smiled as the LED’s glowed on the control panel. He turned on the microphone. “Test, test,” he said.

Everyone cheered.

“Okay everyone, are we ready to rumble?” George asked. “Why don’t we let Knowlan and Richard have the first honors?”

Knowlan and Richard placed their belt sanders on the track against the starting line guide. They plugged their power cords into the extension cord laying on each side of the track. Alvin in his flying gear and Simon with his glasses, blue sweater and mini-speakers.

Bunny, Clarissa, Kissee and I walked down to the finish line. Careful to stay behind the Red Line of Death.

Both men took their respective power switches.

“Gentlemen start your engines,” George said into the microphone.

They held up their power switches.

“The lights are going to run down from red to green,” George said, “once the light turns green, press your power button. May the best man win.”

George walked up to the control panel. Smiling, he pressed a switch. Drag racing noised poured from the speakers. We laughed.

He flipped the toggle switch at the top of the panel and the red light lit. We all counted down. Three, two, one. . .the green light flashed.

The belt sanders blasted down the track with a puff of sawdust. We could hear, “Oo-ee, oo-ah-ah, ting-tang, walla-walla, bing-bang” as they raced down the track.

Kissee and I jumped up and down screaming. With our height difference we looked like an out of control teeter-totter.

Richard’s sander lead Knowlan’s. Halfway down the track, Richard’s extension cord snagged on a shim disconnecting the power from the sander and freeing the shim from the track. The sander came to an abrupt stop. Alvin lurched forward but remained seated.

Richard cursed. He threw his power switch to the ground.

Knowlan’s sander careened down the track bouncing off the melamine siding. Simon listed dangerously to one side. The cord to the belt sander disconnected as it passed the finish line. The music stopped. The belt sander stopped short of the padding.

Knowlan jumped up and down and pumped his fists. “Sorry about that old man, better luck next time.”

Kissee retrieved his sander and walked it back to her husband, high fiving him. I walked over and gave Richard a hug.

George examined the shim. He tossed it to one side and retrieved another shim from the shed. Five minutes later, he declared the track ready.

“Devon, why don’t you and Zack go next,” George said.

Zack grabbed a box from the deck. He pulled out his belt sander. It had a blue and gray dragon attached to the top.

“Hey Zack, what’s you’re hood ornament?” Knowlan asked.

“It’s Latios of Pokemon fame. He does well for me in tournaments. I thought he’d bring me luck.”

Devon reached into the box and pulled out his belt sander. George and Richard laughed.

It sported my race bib from Santa Runs Tacoma with the number 666 on it and all of the metals we earned from our mini triathlon.

“So Dev, what’s that supposed to be?” Richard asked, laughing.

“Extremely abrasive,” Devon said, winking.

Devon and Zack placed their belt sanders on the track against the starting line guide. They plugged their power cords into the extension cords George re-coiled on each side of the track.

“Gentlemen, you know the drill,” George said, queuing up the drag racing noises. George flipped the toggle switch. The red light flashed. We counted down. Green.

The belt sanders roared down the track. Zack’s sander in the lead. Both sanders bounced back and forth between the guide rails. Standing next to me, Clarissa held her breath, clasping her hands in front of her chest.

Kissee, Bunny and I cheered them on.

One of the metals came loose and bounced all over. As they crossed the finish line, the ribbon from the metal caught the aluminum arch. Launching the sander from the track. The metal detached midair heading straight for Clarissa. I grabbed her around the waist. We both rolled. The metal sailed passed us and embedded itself into the fence like a throwing star. The sander landed two inches shy of the Red Line of Death in front of spot where Clarissa previously stood.

“Are you all right?” I asked panting.

“Yeah, you?” she asked.

I nodded.

Devon and Zack were all over us like white on rice, hugging Clarissa and me.

“Fannie, I can’t thank you enough for saving Clarissa,” Devon said, tears streaming down his cheeks.

“Devon, it’s okay, I’d do it again in a heart beat,” I said, smiling. Squeezing his hand, I said, “Besides who knew when I got up this morning I’d be challenging the Red Line of Death?”


About Fannie Cranium

Writing since she could first hold a pen, Tracy Perkins formed her alter ego, "Fannie Cranium" at the suggestion of her husband. Tracy understands smiling makes people wonder what she’s been up to.
This entry was posted in Humor and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Challenging the Red Line of Death

  1. aplscruf says:

    Those pesky medals–and one more to go! I’d really like to see one of the belt sander races sometime! Sounds like a blast!


    • Isn’t it funny what we will do for a piece of metal.

      The belt sander races are a blast. Would you believe it actually started in Washington State back in the day and now it’s world wide.

      P.S. Loved your Tom Petty post. Sounds like the concert was awesome.


  2. Liz says:

    “butt crack of dawn” is one of those before and after lines Dave was rigging up last week! Love it and can’t wait to use it. (though maybe not within hearing distance of my children–haha) Fun to see a bakery link. AND apple fritters. AND Cyndi Lauper hair. You’ve got good stuff in here, Tracy. Thanks for the smiles 🙂


  3. amb says:

    You are on such a roll these days Fannie! That was just awesome. Loved your morning zombie avatar, pre coffee and chocolate. 🙂


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