Uppermost House: Contemplating a career in skulls

By S. Peter Lewis

BN Columnist

What’s the weirdest job you ever had? Great question to ask in March when there isn’t much else to do.

Mine was working on a barge with a rattling sickle bar under the bow that sheared invasive pond weeds off at the mudline and fed the fetid, writhing wrack onto the deck where I was doomed to pitch the steaming pile toward the back before the soggy mass pulled the bow down into the muck and jammed the sickle. Doomed because it was 90 degrees in the sun and I was scrawny and not strong enough. Doomed because my fat boss sat in the back under an umbrella and worked the joysticks and sipped lemonade and chewed his cigar and constantly yelled, “Comonkidmovethatpitchforkwillya.”

Talked to a friend of mine a few years ago, asked him the great March question. Seems he went south for the winter. Way south. Far south as you can go. Safety coordinator for scientists at the bottom tip of the world. Summer down there but still bitterly cold and windy, sideways snow in the air all the time, blown off the glaciated plateau by nearly-constant gales. Navigating between the squat buildings all bent over and leaning and sometimes trailing a rope was like stumbling blindly through flung sugar, he said.

But that wasn’t the weirdest part, as it turns out. Said there was a guy down there who worked the bleak nights greasing machinery and filling fuel tanks and banging on stuck things and unfreezing frozen things with a blowtorch and keeping everyone else who was sleeping alive without them knowing about the close calls.

Month after month, my friend worked down there but never met the guy. “We knew he existed because we’d find a tray with dirty dishes outside his door each morning,” he said. Just forks and spoons along with the soiled plates, he told me. Never any knives. That was the weird part. Can see the ad now: “Wanted: handyman to work third shift at the South Pole. Loners preferred. Good pay and meals. Bring your own knife.”

Best story ever, though, was my friend Rob. Like many around here he was vocationally ingenious because he had to be. Worked lots of little jobs to add up to a whole week. Among other things he climbed cliffs for money, pounded nails, painted houses (including mine), and yanked long-drowned ancient trees from the bottom of lakes for the psychedelically-colored and valuable veneer.

Also loved fishing and hunting and always got his deer. Told me about one late fall day when he was out in his dooryard. Had a rusty 55-gallon drum up on cement blocks with a hot oak fire crackling and spitting away underneath. Mostly filled with water, plus a little bleach; all of it boiling happily. Inside and bubbling away was the cranium and antlers of his latest buck, a nice six-pointer. Yeah, people actually do this, sometimes mounting the result on varnished walnut and hanging it over the fireplace, often just nailing it up with the others under the eaves of garages and sheds. You’ve seen them and wondered who would do such a thing. My friend Rob, for one.

To make sure I got the details for this column correct, I Googled “how to boil a deer head” and found the following instructions (http://discussions.texasbowhunter.com/forums/showthread.php?t=22192).

Step #1: Wait until your wife is gone for the weekend.

Step #2: Make sure you do this outside. It is not the most appetizing smell unless you like the smell of rotten menudo (Mexican soup made with beef stomach and red chilies).

Step #3: DO NOT USE YOUR WIFE’S POTS!

Step #4: Bring a large crawfish pot to boil. You can use dish soap, bleach or peroxide. Make sure not to get the antlers in the boiling water. Boil for 6 to 8 hours and scrape out the head with a screwdriver or something. You will not get all of the insides out of the skull. What I like to do is put the skull in a red ant pile for a few weeks and let them clean the rest of it out. Good luck.

So my friend is standing there stirring the hideous soup in his makeshift cauldron with a broken canoe paddle and he looks around and sees that it’s a very nice day and he’s his own boss and the work isn’t complicated and the tools and supplies are cheap and there’s probably lots of guys who get their deer, but whose wives won’t let them do this, and without really realizing it he starts to hatch a small clever business plan. And then a coiling fume of the foul brew wafts across his cold nostrils and he catches himself and quickly dashes the scheme in the third person. “Rob, get a grip on yourself. You’re considering boiling skulls for a living.

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