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River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative 6.2 (2005) 130-143

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Drinking and Driving

Paul Zulkowski had a 1969 ss Impala, bought from a payment on an insurance claim. He had been working one weekend on his father's farm, putting ears of field corn through an old sheller.

The sheller was connected to the power take-off on an International Harvester tractor, and, as Paul scooped ears into the sheller's mouth, the sheller blew the kernels into the back end of a feed truck. However, Paul stood too close to the pto.

His overall legs caught in its revolution.

Rule 1

Accidents happen easily, quickly, and irreversibly.

One Nebraska high school student accidentally caught his arm in the gears of a baler. When he tried to free his arm, which was turning into hamburger, the machine also took in his second arm. The boy braced his leg against the machine to pull himself free, but the leg went in, too, and, miraculously, tore off at the knee. He landed on the grass of the hay meadow, bleeding, in jeopardy of losing his life, so he rolled in the grass and dirt, toward the road, hoping someone would drive by and see him. It was animal impulse, like when a cat gets run over but drags itself to the shoulder before it can be hit—and killed—again. Surgeons said the grass and dirt had plugged the bleeding or surely he would have died. The boy speculated the entire episode occurred in under a minute.

A coach at Bladen High School, where I taught for a year, lost his arm at the shoulder to a PTO. His sleeve hooked up, and the PTO yanked the arm off. [End Page 130]

My friend Joe's brother Billy dropped a tractor tire into a grown-over rut. The tractor tilted, threw him off the seat and onto the ground. He broke his leg in three places and crawled nearly two miles from the field to the nearest road for help. Had the tractor tilted further, it would have rolled on top of him. Billy was lucky.

Not so lucky was Dale Baldwin, who at midnight went to check his irrigation pump. Something went wrong as he looked it over. It threw a rod, and a metal piece flew out of the pump, into his chest, and out his back. He died instantly.

Gerry Grantham, my brother-in-law's best friend, drove a grain truck to the Co-Op elevator. The hydraulic lift raised the box up to let the grain dump into the bin auger. When he went to put the bed down, it stuck. Grantham stooped under the bed to see if he could find what was wrong. The box dropped suddenly, cutting him in half.

In Paul's case, his pant cuff caught, wound immediately against his leg, tearing flesh from bone, and then the pants tore off. As quickly as he had been captured, he was freed. His leg remained—what was left of it. Paul underwent numerous reconstructive surgeries, using skin grafted from his ass and other tissue from experimental monkeys. Paul was lucky. We called him "Ape Boy" and "Monkey Leg," which he took in good humor. Had he lost the limb, surely one of us would have nicknamed him "Stubby" or "Peg."

When the insurance paid, and Paul was on his feet with the aid of crutches, he bought his Super Sport Impala. The 1969 model was big, a poor man's Cadillac, but with a 350-cubic-inch engine that any other car in its class could hardly rival. Paul's car was forest green with black leather seats, black vinyl roof, and an automatic on the floor. He was particular about his car, never liked to drink or drive in it, so most often we piled into someone else's car to party—typically, mine. Paul was lucky that way. Where he was peculiar in his particularity, the rest of us were not. Paul drank more than anyone, smoked more pot...


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