Do as I say

Dad was still in the Navy when he and my mom made a down payment on an antiquated Mobile Home travel court.  Yeah, what they called a “trailer park.”

We had just moved back from Cuba.  The Missile Crisis was behind us.  1966, my parents were looking for something to provide income after Dad retired from the Navy.  Monthly pay for a Lieutenant was only around $1,200 a month.

Since the place came with a couple of unused acres and several 8 foot wide trailers Dad thought he could expand and improve the monthly income of the park to make it a paying business.

Times were tough though.  He and Mom were always sticklers to pay their bills on time.  The way things were they needed every penny of rent money to scrape by and do small improvements every month.  He took his profits and bought a couple of coin operated washers and dryers for a little extra income.

Slowly but surely things began to pay off as Dad made his improvements, saved his money.  He sold the eight wides and paid down on more trailers, depending on the rent to make the payments.  He bought new 12 X 50 “Buddy’s,”  the payments were $59.00 a month.

The kind of folks they rented to were weekly renters.  They got paid by the week and lived from hand to mouth.  Dad provided them with a place to live that they wouldn’t otherwise have.

Occasionally there might be a deadbeat, trying to slip by a week or two without paying.  My parents needed the rent to pay their bills, to say the least.  Dad was assigned TAD overseas or out of town sometimes, that was usually the time when we needed it the most and got tried the most, by unscrupulous renters.

I was 12 years old at the beginning.  When Dad was out of town I was the man of the house.  Mom still had all the brains, I just did what she said.  My younger brothers and I did the chores, mow grass, rake leaves, do some repairs, even poured concrete slabs for patios. (sometimes we had a little outside assistance, but not always.)

When one of our cherished tenants tried to beat us for some rent money, Mom would tell me to let the air out of his tires or take the battery out of his car. (after dark).  Then the next morning, we would be sitting on our front porch, handy with their battery or a bicycle air pump.  Mom would be smiling form ear to eat and say, “Good morning, having a problem?”  She would start off by saying, “oh you must have got in late last night.  I kept the office open ’til 9 o’clock but I didn’t see you come in.”  One way or another she got her rent.

Mom’s health was in poor condition, sometimes she would sit on the porch in a wheel chair holding either a bullwhip or a frying pan, just to let everyone know that she meant business.  She might have had peculiar ways but she collected her rent and was always friendly and well liked.

When Dad came home it was a different story.  He would take things personal if he saw someone drive past the office on a Friday night without stopping to pay rent, then get out of the vehicle with a six pack under their arm, walking into the trailer ignoring him.

He say something like, “I’d like to have a beer too, but I can’t as long as that SOB owes me money.”     I told you I was 12 years old.  I was a small skinny 12 year old at that.  Dad would wait until near midnight, grab his “Shore Patrol” night stick and say to me, “C’mon son, let’s go collect some rent.”

Surprised, I said to myself, “Me, what can I do?”  Before my mind wandered too far down that lane Dad would say to me, “Remember son, that SOB owes us money.  We need that money to pay our bills.  If we don’t get it now, he will drink it up before daylight.”  Then he would add to it by saying that I should be more afraid of him, than I am of them.”  He meant it too.  I knew he was telling me to do what he says or else.

Around midnight we walked down to number 5.  I won’t mention the name because the man’s kids are friends of mine to this day.  Dad told me to knock on the door and ask for the man of the house, then he stepped behind a tree in the front yard, hidden by the darkness.

My job was to get the man out in the yard, away from prying eyes.  When the guy came to the door I could tell by his bloodshot eyes and belligerent attitude that he was three sheets in the wind.  By the sound of things I think he had been slapping his wife around the trailer.  He looked me up and down and said, “What do you want?”

This guy was huge for a skinny 12 year old to handle but Dad had told me to get him outside in the dark.  I reached up and grabbed him by the top of his “wife beater’s” undershirt then I jumped up and put both of my feet in his belly, right above the belt line and jerked backwards.

We both rolled off of the top steps into the yard.  I can still remember the yard being wet from the dew, when Dad stepped out from behind the tree and tapped the guy twice upside the noggin and put him to sleep.  Just like I had seen him do back in Gitmo when he had Shore Patrol duty.  Dad went through his pockets got his 65 dollars and through the rest on the guy’s chest.  He looked at me and said, “C’mon son, let’s go get a coke.”

Dad didn’t play, he was always about business.  Mom took care of her business, but in a different way.  Dad told me later that him being an Officer in the Navy, he was considered to be “an Officer and a Gentleman, by an act of the United States Congress.”  He said he couldn’t let word get out that he had acted in anyway, unbecoming of an officer.

The next day, we digging a waterline when the tenant in number 5 came driving by, waving at us as he past.  I looked at Dad kind of puzzled, Dad laughed and said, “Don’t worry Son.  He won’t ever tell any one that a 12 year old boy whipped his ass.

Financially, things got better but Mom, always sickly died of cancer a few years later.  She never got to see the financial success that she helped to achieve.  Dad bought more trailer parks, a motel and restaurant, we built a truck stop, but as far as collecting rent goes, he never forgot out origins.

When I started running his businesses for him, I had the same attitude, either pay, get out or face the consequences.  My wife and I were collecting over 10,000 dollars a week, almost every week.  Dad remarried and had moved off to Mandarin, bought himself a three decker houseboat and just collected the rent receipts every Monday.

We had moved our office from the Silver Dolphin to the Malabar Motel.  Our brick home was next door.  Briarwood and Cherokee Village (Trailer Parks number two and three) were either next door or across the street.  Not a perfect neighborhood by any means.  We called this area from our house to I-295, “The Danger Zone.”

Dad told me several times that I should carry a gun.  I caught burglars and dope dealers and prostitutes every day.  Conflicts?  Oh yeah, daily.  I would check the empty trailers after midnight to make sure that there weren’t any transits or vagabonds camping out.  I told Dad that I didn’t need a gun, If I had one, word would get out and no one would try me anymore.  He laughed, I wasn’t the skinny 12 year old anymore.  I had three sons, a brother and three nephews working for me now.  They way I had things figured, I wasn’t the one that was outnumbered.

I was showing an empty trailer to a prospective tenant one night after dark and stumbled upon a group of people crowed into one of the bedrooms drinking beer. A gang rush ensued, people headed for the door, I caught one or two from behind and let them know what was what.

Soon after that, Dad was driving through Briarwood one day with his new wife. Some of the guys from the night before were drinking beer under a tree across the street from the trailer where I caught the intruders.  One of them, Johnny flipped Dad off.  He brought his new wife Gayle to my house and said, “C’mon Son, let’s take a ride.”

We got into his mini van and he told me not to get involved in anything physical.  He said that he just wanted me to get out and walk up from behind to catch any of them that tried to run off and hold them for him.  He said that he wanted to handle it.  I cocked my head and thought, “Damn Dad, that’s what you got me for, ain’t you 62 years old?”

I was still more afraid of him than I was of them.   Though it went against the grain for me to let some one else throw the punches, like a good son, I obeyed.  As I came up from behind the guys sitting on a stump in the shade of an sycamore tree, I could see Dad’s silver van pull up to the fellows.  He opened his door and within three stride threw one punch to the chin, knocked Johnny, his main antagonist out cold.  He had another worthless POS by the front of his shirt with the other hand and started bombarding him with blow after blow.

I was so busy watching the old man holding court that I almost forgot my assigned duty.  I was supposed to keep any of them from running off.  POS number three had run inside  the trailer.  I was closer to the back door, so I ran inside and was face to face with him in the middle of the narrow hallway.  He turned and ran back out the front door, only to catch it in the middle of the face from Dad as he ran out the front door.

I couldn’t believe it.  “Damn Dad” I said, “You should have let me do this.  You can get me out of jail, but I can’t get you out of jail.”   He just laughed and said that there wasn’t anything to worry about.  He said, “Can you see these three guys calling the law and telling them that a 62 year old man kicked their ass for flipping him and his wife the finger?”

Just a few nights later, about 11:30, after watching Houston win the NBA championship, I asked my 13 year old son if he wanted to walk to the store with me to get a Pepsi.  The store was on the far side of the motel, about 500 yards away from our front door.  To get there we had to walk past Dad’s restaurant at the Malabar.  I carried two 16 ounce Pepsi bottles with me so that I wouldn’t have to pay the return deposit.

Walking alongside of US 1, just as we walked past the phone booth in front of the motel, a group of men came out of the shadows towards us.  We didn’t call this area the “Danger Zone” for nothing.  I told my son Michael to run home and tell Mom to call the police.  He just stood there dumbstruck, eyes as big as saucers.

I had a Pepsi bottle in each hand.  The odds were against me, but if I ran, then my son would be at their mercy.  The first three guys tried to surround me but I had my back up against the phone booth.  I could see a fourth guy coming out of the darkness, he was carrying what  looked like a big stick of some kind.  This didn’t look good.  Michael was still there, standing on the fringe.  I repeated my command for him to run home but he was in shock I think, because he didn’t move.

The first guy to try to move in on me caught a drink bottle to the head, the bottle broke almost cutting his right ear completely off.  It was hanging by just a skinny piece of skin.  I still had the neck of the bottle in my left hand with a broken shard sticking out like a dagger.

The next guy dove for my waist, trying to grab me and pull me down.  I jumped back and swung the bottle in my right hand downward, catching him on top of the head.  He went down and stayed down.

I looked up to see the third guy trying to get in position to make a rush at me but he was a step or two beyond my reach.  I threw the bottle in my right hand at him, catching him right in the forehead.  I’m pretty sure that took the fight of him because he dropped to all fours and didn’t make a move to stand back up.

I still had the broken bottle by the neck in my left hand, I held it up in the air to catch the light.  Blood was running down my arm.  I balled up my right fist and yelled at the guy with the club to come and get it.  Though he was still outside of my immediate reach he drew back the stick like a batter at the plate, I could see him hesitate.

There was one guy at my feet, out cold, there was another a foot or two away trying to put his ear back in place and yet another on all fours crawling around in the dark like he was looking for a lost contact lens.  The heavy hitter must of had second thoughts because after looking at the gruesome sights his cohorts made, he took off running.  He disappeared into the darkness, with the guy with the blood running down his neck screaming, “Johnny come back, you got the stick.”

When I heard that, I knew who it was.  Johnny was one of the guys that I had caught in the trailer the other night and popped up side the head a few times.  Yeah, the same one my Dad had knocked out cold.

It was over, except for the moaning and crying.  I looked at Michael and said, “I thought I told you to go get help.”  He said, “Damn Daddy, you didn’t need no help, I ain’t never seen no ass whooping like that before.  He asked me how did I know I could do it?”

I told him that I was just making sure that they were more afraid of me than I was of them.

 

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