Milk as an Accessory

It was summer and my brother and I were doing what we often did in those days, sitting in classic, folding aluminum lawn chairs in the front yard and waiting for something to happen. It was an art form for us. A subtle, nuanced skill we'd been practicing for years and it allowed us to chit chat with those that walked by and wave to those that drove by. I forget the exact year but I know we were old enough that we should have had full time, gainful employment where we paid taxes, punched the clock and toiled for the man. Neither of us did and our father was not amused. We schemed, we made jokes and we drank iced tea. It was the stereotypical southern lifestyle without the plantation, fox hounds, bank account or proper zip code. Despite the outward appearance that ambition lived elsewhere, every once in a while our ability to shrug off adulthood paid off.

I'm not talking about the odd timing belt, brake jobs or other automotive tasks that landed in our laps which provided us just enough pocket money to be dangerous. I'm referring to the moments where a great idea struck, it was acted upon and you achieved extreme personal joy, satisfaction and a real sense of pride in a job well done while still affording yourself the precious luxury of lounging in the front yard for a few hours before dinner.

One of those moments happened on a day when Mike drove by and instead of just waving, he actually pulled into the driveway for a proper verbal exchange. We didn't know it at the time but Mike would go on to eclipse our ability of maintaining an unemployed state. He took it to another level altogether and while his tax-exempt craft is as notable as it is long standing, it was his car that sparked a fabulous plan devised by my brother.

The car responsible for this gem of clever creativity was an early 1970's Volkswagen Beetle, dirty yellow in color. Mike's family had an affinity for Beetles and having been in the possession of several versions throughout the years, he became rather handy in the upkeep of said vehicle. It was rumored he could drop an engine and have a new (previously owned) engine back in and running in under an hour. But maintenance was not the cornerstone of my brother hatching a plan. It was the well rounded roofline of the car that precipitated a tremendous caper capable of fooling almost everyone that saw it. The plan was simple enough, take a one gallon milk jug, affix it to the top of the Volkswagen, drive around town and see what happens.

Out of the recycling bin came a clear gallon milk container which was promptly spray painted white to simulate a full jug. Next, was figuring a way to attach the jug to the roof so it could withstand moderate speeds. Using a rivet gun seemed like the most secure option but that didn't allow the jug to be removed in case he ever wanted to go through a car wash. Never mind that Mike didn't blink at all when this method was proffered, and it is doubtful the car had ever been washed in the past decade either. He had no illusions of his vehicle ever being an exquisite Autobahn cruiser and had no problem whatsoever with us drilling a hole in the roof in the name of sociological experiments.

We worked around the car wash impediment by using an industrial strength adhesive to attach velcro to the roof of the car and the underside of the milk jug. With the paint on the jug nearly dry and the velcro adequately secured, we put the jug on the roof in an impossible-to-believe, gravity-defying position and headed to the grocery store.

One would have thought we were throwing hundred dollar bills out the window as we drove through the parking lot. Just as a moth to a flame, no one within view could stop staring. People gestured, people gasped, people hollered, people abandoned their carts and rushed in our direction to alert us to what was, in their mind, imminent disaster and extreme embarrassment.

We laughed so hard we cried and ran the risk of having to stop the car to dry our eyes which would ruin the gag should we be idle too long and allow anyone to get close enough to expose the truth. We pushed through it and continued around the parking lot with sharp turns and sudden stops. One lady got close enough and shouted, "You have milk on your roof!" Mike replied in a disbelieving tone, "You have a bird on your head!" The woman's expression indicated she was not amused and likely took pleasure that the callous driver of the VW probably deserved to lose his milk as she was merely trying to help.

We left the local grocery store and headed up to another grocery and received finger pointing, blaring horns and flashing headlights from other drivers the entire time. Upon arriving at the next store, it was the same response at every turn, pointing, excited gestures and a constant stream of laughter from within the vehicle. We continued to drive through several grocery store parking lots, and we soon realized after quite some time that we were low on fuel. So we headed off with the milk jug still atop the car and travelled several more miles to the gas station. We pulled in and as Mike was about to pump some fuel, a guy pulled up next to us and said, "I followed you two miles out of my way to tell you you left your milk on the roof." Mike thanked the guy in a nonchalant manner and continued to pump gas. The milk stalker was agitated and asked if Mike was going to put it in his car. Mike said he wasn't. The bewildered, humorless gentleman, after some hesitation, finally decided he had gotten involved in something far outside his comfort zone and left without further questions.

Had real employment interfered in our lives that summer, we might never had learned that people are basically decent, willing to help a stranger and point out the presumed shortcomings of an absent minded shopper.