Six of us stood at the base of the old abandoned oilrig. Barbara was the only girl. Nickel bets were made as to who would be the first to climb up to the platform on the very top of the oilrig. I bet a brand new quarter on the Human Spider, which, of course, was met with sneers and laughter.
Within seconds, three nickels and one dirty dime covered my bet. I smiled at Barbara. She smiled back at me. With her skinny arms, skinny legs, dirty flower sack dress and beat up sandals, she looked like a throw away ragdoll you’d buy at the neighborhood Goodwill store. Not exactly the image of a world-class climber. That didn’t bother the Human Spider. She was ready to climb.
We looked up to the top of the oilrig. It hummed in the warm desert breeze like the strumming of a giant guitar string. We drew a line in the sand and a fat little six-year old kid named Gilbert held his cap gun high and shouted, “On your mark. Get set…”
“Bang!” The race was on.
Right away the Human Spider took the lead. Her skinny legs and arms propelled her upwards with speed and agility. My buddies were stunned. Some of the cross bars on the oilrig were missing. Barbara just went right around them on her way to the top. The Human Spider was fearless.
By the time we were at the midway level, three of the guys had already quit. They gave obvious excuses. “It’s a stupid game,” “Who cares anyway?” and my all-time favorite, “I ain’t gonna race no girl.” That left Jerry, Barbara and I. Up we went, Jerry and I desperately trying to catch the Human Spider.
I looked up and saw that Barbara was just about to climb over the last cross bar and onto the platform that held the oilrig’s big pulley. She hesitated for a second to looked back down at me and, in that instant, her foot slipped and she screamed.
Barbara held on by one hand with her feet dangling in midair. It was a long way down. As Jerry and I watched, particles of rust and dirt fell into our mouths and eyes.
Thank goodness we somehow managed to get close enough to help her back to safety. One of her sandals was missing, and she had a bleeding gash in her leg from sliding against the sharp edge of the oilrig. We slowly climbed back down to the ground.
The three quitters gathered around. Barbara brushed the rust and dust from her dress. Her missing sandal was lying in the dirt. One of its straps was torn loose. That’s what caused her to lose her footing. It occurred to me that she could have died.
There was no doubt that Barbara had won the bet, but the three quitters refused to pay up. They said Barbara handn’t actually stood on the top platform. It was petty, and low thing to say. I felt sorry for Barbara. She had, after all, touched the platform. It didn’t matter. The quitters jumped on their bicycles and rode away in a cloud of dust. Barbara made an ugly face and stuck out her tongue.
Barbara and I remained friends until I joined the military ten years later. After that I never saw the Human Spider again. As to those welshers who refused to honor their bets on that day when Barbara beat their puny little butts in an oilrig climbing contest, I can’t even remember their names.