March 16, 2009

Dr. Clauson


Bill Clauson died recently. I'm not sure what from, though I imagine cancer got him. He had battled that in the past, and may still have been. What kind or where, I can't remember or never was told. either way, it's sad for his family, friends and people who knew him, like me.

I worked with Bill testing vehicle emissions at Envirotest. This was back when I was an undergrad and a little after, slugging it out with fifth graders in Belleville. He was related to one of the assistant managers at Envirotest, but that hardly mattered. Bill was already retired and took the job as a way to get out of the house where his wife worked him in the yard like a field hand. Before he retired, he was the head of the music education department, I believe, at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. I never knew him when I attended there, if he was even still at the school then. People probably called him Dr. Clauson out of respect.

He was an avid photographer, even had his work shown at a coffeehouse in Edwardsville once. He was incredibly nice. A good worker who busted his ass the best he could, something he didn't need to do, ever. I get the impression that if the rest of us was working up a lather out in the lanes testing cars, he should, too. He had a great sense of humor, and good timing. Once, after we tested and failed a car, the person starting swearing at me, hard, calling me everything but a child of god. The car, of course, was decked out in Jesus regalia, including one of those fake novelty plates that says "Jesus!" resting in the back window. After I had been called a no-good-motherfucker for probably the third time for failing this woman's car, Bill sidled up next to me, leaned over to the woman and said, "Remember, Jesus is love." The woman then said, "Fuck you" and sped off.

What I remember the most about Bill in the years I worked with him is the time he nearly killed me. It was an accident, sure, and became a running joke later so it was all in good fun afterwards.

Part of the testing procedure was we had to drive a car on a dynamometer, which is essentially a car treadmill. We hooked a vacuum hose to the tailpipe to collect the emissions, put these hard rubber wedges called chocks in front of the non-drive wheels to keep it in place on the treadmill and a large fan positioned in front of the grill to keep the cars from overheating. It was quite a process, loud too. We'd wind those cars up to around 60 miles an hour on that treadmill, and it'd make all kinds of damn noise. Then once the test was over, you'd put the car in park or neutral if it was a stick shift, hop out, and help unhook the equipment then get ready for the next one. Depending on the day, you could do it up to 100 times a day, but most times it was closer to 50 or thereabouts.

One day, Bill was driving a car. Not a car, but a big frigging truck. A F250 or thereabouts. The test is over, he steps out and I'm helping him take the gear off the car. Bill heads toward the rear of the truck for the vacuum hose, I take the chocks from the front tires since all trucks are rear wheel drive. As soon as I take the second chock out, the truck starts rolling forward toward me and the large fan that I had yet to move.

At first, I think Bill put it in neutral and the truck's just coming forward some so I could stop it just be pushing on it. Therefore, I stand in front of the movie F250 truck, pushing against it. However, this truck, does not stop. Keeps on coming and I keep on pushing back. As you can imagine, I am unsuccessful in stopping this truck and it's pushing me back as it keeps coming forward. I'm also trying to keep the fan from being run over, because in my finite wisdom I'm also concerned about this truck being screwed up if it were to run over the fan.

So, I keep pushing against the truck and holding up the fan and walking backwards through the lane. I didn't have a plan, particularly after I figured out that I could not stop this moving truck and that Bill must have left it in drive.

Then, like an angel, Roy (yes that Roy of the Christmas-night bar fight) runs from the next lane, hops into the truck cab and stops it from crushing me alive. I guess from the casual observer, I looked to be in substantial peril. To quote Roy after he stopped the truck, "Bryan, I thought you were had." Bill apologized completely.

I never felt any animosity toward Bill over this. He just forgot to put the truck into park. Shit happens, and I didn't die. It didn't stop me from hassling him for years afterward. Whenever I drove a car and he was moving the fan for me so I didn't have to get out, I would rev the engine a little. He'd laugh, I'd laugh, then he'd apologize again, meaning it.

But, I feel bad this is the only solid memory I have a Bill. He deserves more, I just can't give that to him. I don't even remember if he quit before me, or after me. It's just not right. I'm sorry, Dr. Clauson. Truly.


1 comment:

Steve G. said...

RIP Bill. Don't forget about the weekly donuts.