Friday, May 05, 2006

Riding to Ralph's Farm

Here is an oldie but a goodie.

Riding to Ralph's Farm

by Todd Kuzma

I finally got around to replacing the bulb in my Lumotec headlight. I hadn’t ridden at night in a while, so I thought that it was time for an evening spin on the bike. I left the house on the Heron Touring before sundown and headed out into a strong headwind. No sense fighting the wind on the way home in the dark. The downside was that I would cross the river and begin climbing the bluff through Starved Rock State Park within the first three miles. My asthmatic lungs preferred a bit longer warm-up than that. It usually took me about ten miles or so to be ready for a hard effort.

Fortunately, I managed to make it up and over the climb without an attack. The rolling country roads offered a small opportunity for recovery, but not a lot. Once out of the protective woods of the park, the headwinds were back and seemed worse than before. Still riding in my anaerobic haze, I saw a peculiar sight up the road. It was a large wooden structure that I had not seen before. Was I hallucinating? It’s possible. As I got closer, I realized that I was coming up on a piece of property I refer to as “the compound.”

“The compound” is Ralph’s farm. I’m not sure if Ralph is a militia member, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Ralph used to be fairly interested in cycling, and I got to know him through the local club. I went to several meetings at his house. It looked just like the set of the original black-and-white Lassie television series. There were always ducks and chickens and dogs running around plus a couple of his kids working on an old outboard motor clamped inside a barrel of water. His home had a wood-burning furnace controlled by a series of ropes and pulleys.

I was once on a ride with Ralph when he started talking politics. He had never brought up the subject with me before. I’ve heard it said that you don’t discuss politics or religion in polite company, and perhaps Ralph needed to know me for a while before he felt comfortable enough to break that rule. He started by explaining how “the Jew-bankers” ran the world and continued on to various international conspiracies involving international finance, royalty, and the Vatican. I just listened and tried not to make any sudden movements. After the speech wound down a little, I made an excuse to ride off home. I hadn’t talked to him since.

So, old Ralph was out in his field messing with this big wooden structure. As I rode by, I saw him back away from it and pull a rope. Slowly, a giant beam began to rotate. As it accelerated, I saw another rope attached to one end. At the end of this rope was some object, but I couldn’t tell what it was. At the top of the beam’s rotation, a ball emerged from the object and began to sail above the farm fields. The ball flew in a long, high arc for what appeared to be a half-mile.

Fortunately, it was early in the year, and no crops were in the field. This made it easier to see where the ball went (and apparently ensure that the landing area was free of geese, dogs, and kids). Finally, I recognized this contraption as a catapult. Specifically, it was a type of catapult called a trebuchet.

Ralph was a member of a local “taxpayers’ association.” This group was able to shut down a plan to introduce county-wide zoning and was taking aim at the building code ordinances. They believed that government had no right to say what anyone could or could not do on their own property.

I actually wound up at one of their meetings after I had read in the paper that they were opposing our county’s Greenway and Trails Plan. I happened to chair the county greenway and trail committee. If they were going to oppose my committee’s plan, I wanted to know why.

I entered the room where the meeting was held and introduced myself to a small group standing near the door. I was immediately recognized as an outsider, and the room went silent. Thirty or so pairs of eyes turned to me. Suddenly, I felt very alone. As the meeting began, I went to the top of the agenda. They laid out the scenario for me. See, I was just the local sucker that the “powers that be” would use to achieve their goals. Once the county approved our Greenway and Trails Plan, the state Department of Natural Resources would use it and my committee to begin seizing private property. This was because the state DNR was really an arm of the National Park Service, Sierra Club, and Nature Conservancy. They were all controlled, of course, by the United Nations. So, our little county trail plan was, in reality, part of an elaborate conspiracy to cede control of our country to the UN. A couple of members explained to me that the UN already controlled our public schools and national parks (thanks to Bill Clinton).

A conversation with these guys always had the potential for great entertainment, and that was not something to be underestimated!

Anyway, when I saw Ralph, I didn’t want to get into another discussion about Jew-bankers, but he DID have a catapult. How could I pass that up? Entertainment tonight! I rolled up to him and asked, “Hey, Ralph, what’s up with the catapult?”

“You like that, do you?” he asked gazing off into the distance.

“Pretty cool. What’s it for?”

“Well, you know how the gov’mint is trying to take away our right to bear arms?” Ralph was staring me right in the face and standing close enough for me to feel a little awkward.

“Um, yeah.” I answered cautiously.

“Well, the Second Goddamn Amendment says that ‘the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.’ Yet, I am not free to bear arms, am I? Sure, I can own some guns, but the Second Amendment doesn’t say anything about some arms being OK and others not OK. How am I supposed to protect myself against the gov’mint with a handgun? How about a rocket-propelled grenade? No, we can’t have that. Not allowed. But nobody said nothin’ about a catapult!”

“So, what’s it for?”

“Black helicopters,” he answered plainly.


“The black helicopters that the gov’mint sends out here to check on us malcontents.” A fire began to grow in Ralph’s eyes.

“You’re going to shoot down a helicopter with a catapult?”

“I’m sure gonna try.”

He asked if I wanted to hang around and watch the skies with him. At the moment, he didn’t seem to regard me as an enemy, so it felt safe enough to hang around and see what else he might say. Besides, if the helicopters came, wouldn’t that be cool?

The sun was already below the horizon, and the sky was darkening. Ralph reloaded the catapult and fired another test shot. The contraption didn’t seem to be very maneuverable. I guess he was hoping that the helicopter would just happen to fly right in front of it.

We waited and scanned the skies, although I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking for. It had been dark about an hour, and I told Ralph that I had to go. I had used up a lot of riding time by hanging out in that field, and my wife would be looking for me soon. Plus, Ralph hadn’t said anything remotely funny in quite a while. As I swung my leg over the top tube, Ralph said, “Ssshh! They’re coming! You hear that?”

“No.” I shook my head.

“Exactly. You can’t hear them black helicopters. Totally silent.”

Apparently, they are hard to see as well. I looked all over the sky and couldn’t see a thing. Ralph was busy running around the catapult trying to ensure that it was ready to fire.

“They’re here! They’re here!”

He pulled the rope, and the beam began its slow rotation. The ball flew out into the darkness, and again I heard nothing. Suddenly, a light as bright as daylight shone down from directly above. With my eyes adjusted to the dark, I was blinded. I heard a “whoosh,” and the light was gone.

“Ralph! Ralph! Did you see that? What the hell was that?”



I picked up the front of my bike and spun the front wheel. The hub dynamo sent enough current to get the headlight to glow dimly. I turned slowly around, illuminating the field while continuing to spin the wheel. Ralph was gone. OK, things were getting a little creepy. I hopped on my bike and began to sprint away. I almost went right off of the road as I stared into the blackness of the sky looking for whatever the heck that was. My heart was racing.

I don’t remember much about the ride home. I didn’t say anything to my wife. I was afraid of what she might say. Maybe she’d lean in close to see if I had little pinwheels where my pupils should be. I haven’t seen Ralph since that night, and I still haven’t seen a black helicopter. The catapult still sits in Ralph’s field, but now it is the catapult that waits for Ralph to return with or without his black helicopter friends.

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