One day I was looking back through my collection of old business cards that I had accumulated over the years, one brought back a story to mind. My brother Gary and his wife Rae lived in Hardy, Arkansas (You have probably seen Erik Estrada on TV doing commercials). It was a good central location to work out of. You could leave out in any direction, headed somewhere to go work and if your luck was any good, you would be bound to hit a prosperous area, sooner or later
Every time we drove up from Kansas City, heading home, we usually went through Bentonville. Most of the time, we were either empty (without a load to sell) or it was after dark, too late to “pitch.”
As we headed out one morning to go work, we drove towards Dallas. Gary had bought a hand accordion over the week end and as I drove, he practiced. Lovely, just lovely, I’ve got to drive all the way to Dallas, listening to this? We drove through Ash Flats, down towards Pocahontas. I was driving and gritting my teeth, when I came up with the idea to go work Bentonville. It wasn’t that far and I could sure use a break from all of that screeching.
Gary was wearing a pair of overalls that day. We noticed a sign that read “Andy’s WELDING.” The door was opened to the shop, the house was next door and the yard was full of grazing goats. Gary got out of the truck and trying to be funny, he imitated Aunt Bee, from Andy of Mayberry. He hollered out, imitating her voice, “Andeeee, Andy.” I almost split a gut, it was so funny. No one answered, no one came to the door, no dogs barking, just the wail of the radio, coming from the shop.
We were kind of leery about the situation. It seemed like we were in an Alfred Hitchcock movie or something. We both walked to the open door of the shop, not seeing anybody, I hollered out “Hey, anybody home?” One of those darn goats had climbed atop the hood of my truck and was licking dead bugs off of the windshield. The old goat turned to look at me and he bleated out “Naaaahhhhhhhhh!”
Right around the corner from the welding shop, located on the main drag through Bentonville, was the Bentonville Casket Company. Since we were here already, we figured “Why not? Let’s pitch ‘em. When we pulled in, the main boss wasn’t there, the one that signs the checks. We told the foreman that “we had a truck load of brand new tools and machinery that we had to dispose of for our boss, back in Carolina. Repo’d, brand new, selling it for cheap, just call ’em and make an offer.”
The foreman told us that his boss wasn’t in but he had a friend named Sam that owned a five and dime store nearby and that he was building a new store because business was so good. He thought that his friend Sam would be interested in our stuff and he had the money, he could write our boss a check for all of it and the check would be good. All he wanted out of the deal was one of those brand new socket sets.
Hearing that, we got excited. No, we didn’t mind waiting. The foreman called his buddy Sam, who said he’d be with us in a few minutes, he was trying to open a new store. He was just down the street, right next to his Five and Dime Store. While we were waiting for him, the main boss to the casket company returned. He showed some interest, we put him through the book, but when his foreman told him that he had called Sam and that Sam was on his way to take a look, the boss of the casket company deferred his interest to Sam. Let Sam take a look and see what he has to say.
A white box truck pulled up to the place and an older gentleman got out. He was wearing a straw hat, the kind with the green visor built into the brim, a sweaty white shirt with a pocket protector full of pens and pencils. The foreman introduced us; he told me that if Ole Sam was to buy this stuff, he wanted us to make sure that he got that socket set for a “Bird Dog Fee.” I asked him which truck was his. I would lay it on the floorboard when no one was looking.
Mr. Sam looked our truck load of tools over, he spoke with the foreman and the business owner and then he came back to us. You could have knocked me over with a feather when he asked us “Do y’all work for Bobby or do y’all work for Billy?” Shocked as we were, I tried to stay in character, “Oh no, we work for their sister Miss Francis. She owns the company now.”
Sam said “That figures, I told them boys not to spend all their money on race cars, that they would loose their ass.” We told him that Miss Francis sponsors David Pearson (Race car Driver) over in Greer, that Billy was “Jet setting’ and that Bobby was raising Beefalos and building car dollies.” Sam looked at the ground and spit, while he was leaning against the truck. He told us that he had been in the Army with their Dad Clint back in the war. I said “Do you mean Mr. Flint?” He laughed and said, “Yeah, I was just checking you out.”
We got back to talking about the tools at hand; I asked him if he could write our boss out a check for these tools? Sam said “Goodness no. I can barely write a check for a hundred dollars. Sure, I own a lot of stores and buy and sell a lot of merchandise, but my wife don’t trust me with no check book. If I buy something it’s either cash or send me a bill and I never carry more than a hundred.”
About this time old Sam pulled a card out of his pocket protector and started scribbling on back. He said that he was drawing a map to his warehouse, he even wrote down his personal phone number. He told us that “This guy here won’t buy nothing, his business is so bad he can’t pay attention and that his foreman is so dumb, he can’t poor piss out of a boot, without getting his feet wet. He told us that he wanted all of the little tools, like the wrenches and grinder and the vise etc. He wanted us to meet back at his place in about an hour. He gave me the card, got back in his box truck and drove off. The faded letters on the side of his truck read “WALTON’S Five and Dime.”
As he drove off, I was holding Sam’s card in my hand, when the owner of the casket company walked up to us and said, “Well, what happened, what did he say?” The foreman was right behind him, all ears, I guess he had his mind on that free socket set. I showed the boss man old Sam’s business card and told him “You must have friends like I got. He said that you don’t have the money to be able to afford this stuff. He wants us to meet him back at his “wareroom” in an hour. He wrote down directions for us on the back of his card, just in case we get lost, he gave us his personal phone number.” Then I handed the card to the business owner to read for himself.
The man took a look at the card, turned it over and read the back of it. He hesitated then said “Yeah, you’re right. That does it, back the truck up over there and unload it and I’ll get you a check.”
So, all in all, it turned out to be a pretty good day. We dropped our load. I guess you could say we dropped on our first pitch, because the two old goats don’t count. I’ve thought about it a few times and I sure would have liked to see the expression on the foreman’s face when he opened the door to his pickup and instead of finding the half inch socket set like I promised, he got a slightly used, second hand accordion.
Working Atlanta back in ’79, I was on top of the world. I had just started my own sales crew. I talked the powers that be at Carolina Tool into sending me a tractor trailer load of equipment on consignment. Before the equipment got there though, my crew of gimps got homesick, missing their girlfriends,without warning they quit on me.
My younger brother Gary was a real life saver. He took a break from working with Arnie Fields in Phoenix, to come help me train a new crew. I intended to run an ad in the paper and hire a new crew. Gary was going to help me train them, then go back to Phoenix and work with Arnie and his crew.
I needed some cash in my pocket before I ran the hiring program, so Gary and I tested the water in our new territory, each of us going in different directions every morning, seeking fame and fortune.
Atlanta was good to us. I sold several loads of equipment and it wasn’t long before I was cashed up. I wasn’t ready yet to rest on my laurels but not far from it. We were staying in the Days in by the airport, Hart’s Field on I-75. Carolina Tool had a corporate account with the Days Inn. As long as I sold their equipment, I didn’t have to pay rent, which was a real blessing. Gary and I would work Atlanta all week, then would catch a $49.00 flight back to home to Jacksonville for the weekend. We would do a little bit of partying, then fly back to “Hotlanta” to make some more jack.
Thinking back now, it was a terrific lifestyle. The hardest thing I had to face everyday was the morning traffic on I-420, the bypass around Atlanta. It wasn’t as tough as the traffic in Houston on I-620 but still, it was bad enough. Gary and I would eat breakfast at 7 a.m. sharp, go back to our motel room, say our daily prayer, then load our trucks with a new load of equipment for the day, then sashay down the road looking for a “mullet” to buy our load. Afterwards, we hit the bank to “hammer our check,” then it was back to the motel to rest and see which one of us got back first.
One morning, I was the first one back to the room. I was “home” by eleven a.m. Gary arrived soon afterwards. He showed up with an old school chum, Tommy Jones, AKA “Tex.” Tommy’s sister Jean was in my homeroom class back in high school for 3 years. She sat next to me in typing class one year. I never was much of a typist. I just enrolled in typing class to be near a bunch cute girls. I was the only guy. Jean would type my name on her paper during speed trials and turn it in as mine, just so that I could pass the class. Tommy told me that Jean later went to work for the State’s Attorney’s Office in Jacksonville and later the FBI.
Tex was an ex-grip for some guys that we grew up with that had their own band. You may have heard of them, “Lynyrd Skynyrd.” But that was then. Now he was working for his grandpa out of Nahunta, Georgia at the Farmer’s Market in Atlanta. He was hustling a truckload of watermelons, sleeping in the truck, there at the Farmer’s Market. He was scratching a broke ass, because “Diamond Jubilees” were going for $2.50 apiece and the profit margin was slim, very slim.
Gary ran into Tex, right in the middle of a “sales pitch.” When Gary flashed a roll of hundred dollar bills. Tex’s eyes swoll up like boiled eggs and said, “Wait just a minute.” He grabbed his trunk out of the back of hid grandpa’s flatbed and tossed it into the back of Gary’s pickup. He just left his grandpa holding the bag, so to speak.
This was Gary’s opportunity to head back to Phoenix. Just as soon as he could train Tex and break him into the business, he could go back to work for Arnie and see his girlfriend too. One night we were out clubbing. Gary met Buddy Allen (Buck Owen’s son), while Buddy’s band was taking a break at the Twilight Lounge. They became friends and flew back to Phoenix together. I didn’t want to see Gary leave; he was good company and excellent help. Together, it was us against the world. My responsibilities were in Atlanta at the moment and I didn’t have any girlfriends to worry about. I wasn’t all that familiar with Tex, but knew his sister well or at least I thought I did.
My daily goal was to maintain a wad of $10,000.00 cash, at all times. I never quite got there. Oh I hit $8,000.00 or a little more a time or two, but for various reasons, it would dwindle down to around $6,500.00, which was my norm. There was a problem working with Tex though. If he knew that I had a wad of money in my pocket, he would figure out a way to help me spend it. We worked every day, Monday through Friday. As lovable a guy as Tex was, he stretched it to the limit often enough. On Fridays, say I made a sale about 1 p.m, Tex would want to drive to the South Carolina coast to see this new band he’d heard about that later became famous as “Alabama.” They had a fiddle player that was awesome. He wanted to go see them every weekend. He liked to party and rub elbows with the guys as often as possible. I was getting over my head, spending more than I was making for a while. I stopped flying home to Jacksonville so much every week end, it became more like once a month if not longer than that.
I flew in to Atlanta one Monday morning. I went to the Baggage Claims to get my suitcase, but it was missing. I waited for the next flight, no bags, so I made an $800 claim, they paid on the spot. I took a cab to the motel and there’s Tex with my bags. He couldn’t see the sense in doing things the straight way; he had to bogus up everything he touched.
All of this, plus lots more, got to wearing on me like a sore tooth. The bars closed at 2 am but we found several after hour places. On most nights, we wouldn’t go home until the sun come up. All these extra curricular activites made Jackman, a very dull boy. We hustled and made some money at night, but I was there to sell tools and that’s how I wanted to earn my money. I wanted to leave Atlanta. I tried to rat hole my money and not tell Tex exactly how much I had. Not putting all of the blame on Tommy but with him around; I never seemed to get to my “safe zone”.
We we’re still working Atlanta, that was our problem. He knew where the whores were, the best place to shoot pool, the location of all the “dives.” We timed our days to catch Happy Hour at the Marriot with the free buffet. After it got dark, we found the best places to cop dope. We even knew which escort service to call. Tex preferred the ones that used girls from his “Lynyrd Skynyrd” days. We discovered that Lisa Yarbrough worked there; she was the sister of our high school chums Jim, AKA “Bird” and Dave. Dave was a railroad engineer for CSX railroad. Tex told me that it was said that he use to bring back a kilo of cocaine from Miami every Thursday for the entourage of the boys in the Skynyrd band, on the down low. Lisa would come by our room at least once a week with one or two of her girlfriends and we would paint the town red, from dusk ‘til dawn. Drug use wasn’t on my agenda, but when you have lots of money in a strange city and you want to hang out with the kind of girls that we did, well it didn’t hurt to have a little bit of pot, especially if you had a date with some of the gals from the escort service. It turned out that they usually wanted something a little stronger than pot.
Well after all, we didn’t hang out in any churches. Back in those days, I enjoyed smoking pot. Tex liked to shoot “T’. The best place to find them was in the “hole.” The “hole” was a large city project community on top of a hill in southern Atlanta, just outside the loop. You made your request at the bottom of the hill at the stop sign, then drive on up to the top of the hill. Then out of the gloom, a guy would step out of nowhere with your product. You paid him and drove on.
We made a purchase one night after dark and went back to the motel. Tex fixed up his works in a spoon then shot a whole gram at one time, half in each arm. The he completely destroyed the room, tearing the sink from the wall and the toilet away from the floor. His new girlfriend Debbie and I couldn’t watch it anymore; we left Tex staring off into space and went to the Twilight Lounge trying to make a few bucks. It was something that we did together as a hobby, to make “chump change.” Tex couldn’t participate because he would get jealous and throw a fit, ruining everything. With me and Debbie there wasn’t any emotion involved. It was just wham, bam, thank you M’am and we would be on our way.
Debbie was an ex-biker chick. She won the Tattoo Contest at the Silver Slipper. She and Tex had been hooked up every since. Debbie and I were on the same level, partner’s in crime. With us it was all business. Business first, business last and take care of your business in between. We went to the Twilight Lounge on Cleveland Road. I found a place at the bar to rest my elbows an order a drink. It was just a few minutes before she brought a “john” up to me and presented him to me and introduced me as her “old man.” She said, “He wants to talk to you.” Atlanta is home to a lot of high rollers, foreign and domestic. I could tell this guy wasn’t what we call,“much from around here.” He said to me, “Your wife, how much for your wife?” After looking at him up and down, I tilted my Stetson back, took a swig out of my drink and looked at him again. I couldn’t help but notice all the gold chains hanging from his neck. I said “For you mother f–ker, four hundred bucks and no blow jobs, I got to kiss her.” I can remember counting his money, It was four hundred dollars and one peso. I reached into my pocket, then dangled the keys to the Trans Am high in the air and said to Debbie, “Here take the car.” I added “wait a minute.” Then reached into my other pocket and peeled off a twenty from my bank roll and told her, “Here, you’re gonna need some gas.” Then I pulled two ones from the wad and said, “Oh by the way, bring me a pack of cigarettes. I handed her the money. I turned to the bar to order another drink. I could see through the open door. Debbie peeled out of the parking lot with the “John,” stopping on the corner to get gas. She gave the mullet the money to go inside the store to pay for the gas and to get the cigarettes. Just as soon as he turned his back to enter the store, she pulled off and returned to the club. She wasn’t gone no more than about five minutes. I was waiting for her in the parking lot, with a drink in each hand. I got into the passenger seat and we headed back to the motel.
We found Tex practically naked, except for his cowboy boots and hat, staring off into space. The room was demolished, water streaming from broken pipes. Debbie and I joked about having sex in front of him, just to see if he was faking or not. He didn’t even flinch. In about 30 minute’s time, the glaze over his eyes disappeared. He put his clothes back on and acted like he was mad. I thought he was mad at us at first. I was relieved when he said “Mike, that there dope warn’t any good. I need to make a ride, will you back me brother?”
Through thick and thin, I was always “In”. Tex and I got into the Trans Am, minus the T tops, wearing our Cowboy hats, pulled down shielding our eyes with an attitude, heading for the “Hill.” When we got to the bottom of the hill, Tex told the “jitterbug” that came pout of the darkness at the bottom that we wanted to see the Big Man. If we didn’t get to see him, there was gonna be trouble. We drove to the top of the Hill and a second “jit” came out of nowhere and scrunched up in the back seat. He said, “So you fellas wanta see the “Big Man? Okay, well let’s go.” I noticed he was wearing what looked like a MAC-9 or 10 on a shoulder holster. It didn’t stop me from hauling ass into the projects and doing a four wheel power slide right up to the front door. Tex already had his door open; he was almost to the front door before I came to a complete stop.
After the password or whatever was given, the door opened to a dimly lit downstairs apartment, full of men. They all seemed to be black as midnight. These guys were lieutenants standing guard around the Big Man. All of them were heavily armed. Big Man was sitting in the middle of a curved sofa, across his lap was a sawed off shotgun. His right hand looked like it might be holding something too, but you really couldn’t tell for sure because it was tucked down in between the cushions of the couch. He was so big that he used up most of the sitting space. Tex shoved the “jits” out of the way. I was walking right behind him until he stopped short. I took a step around him and there we stood. We were side by side staring at the biggest man I ever saw, even sitting down he was huge. Tex told the big man “Me and you got a problem, that dope you sold me warn’t no damn good. I wanna know just whatchu planning on doing about it?” Big Man seemed calm, he released his grip on whatever it was he was holding between the cushions of the couch. He laid the sawed off shotgun on the coffee table in front of us. He leaned back and told Tex “to take it easy and have a seat, maybe we can work things out.” Before he sat down, Tex reached in his pocket and pulled out his .25 automatic in the palm of his hand. It looked like fleeing cockroaches in there for a second, every one scurrying for their gun or to find a place to duck and hide. Tex took the little pistol in the flat palm of his hand and slapped it on the coffee table. He said “I just wanted you to know where I’m coming from Big Man. I didn’t come up here to start any trouble. Just as long as you are a stand up kind of man, there won’t be none.”
There were at least 15 guys in the room. It was me and Tex against a small army. I think I was the only one in the room without a gun. I remained standing. It seemed like an out of body experience. For a second there things didn’t look too good for us homeboys. The hair on the back of my neck was standing up. Then, Big Man smiled from golden earring to golden earring and said “Relax Tex.” He had a fresh bag of dope brought out. He replaced Tex’s “gram” with an “eight ball,” then he addressed me and said “Here you go Pahdner,” (my new nick name) then he shoved about an ounce of what he called “good herb,” in my direction. Turning to face Tex the Big Man said, “I like your style Tex, you’re welcome here anytime, now, are we straight?”
When we returned to the Days Inn, we saw flashing blue lights; the parking lot was roped off with crime scene tape, barring our entry. A police evidence van was parked in front of our room. Off to one side, in the middle of a stairway was Debbie. She had gathered our belongings before the police got there and was waiting our return, nonchalantly.
We loaded up the trans Am with her and our belongings and decided to leave Georgia and headed to South Carolina to see our friends from Ft. Payne, “Alabama,” one last time. Yes, it was a good time to put Atlanta in our rear view mirror.
My Dad’s favorite saying was “Be more afraid of me, than you are of them.” He meant it. While he was still in the Navy, my parents bought a small trailer park, with plans to expand. It took most of his military salary just for us to get by, he even sent his foster mother, every month payroll deductible. The trailer park had to pay for itself. That’s just the way it was, no bones about it. My youngest brother Duane had Cerebral Palsy, he would go door to door to collect empty drink bottles from the coke machine, so that Dad didn’t have to pay the two cents to the Coke man.
Dad was deployed again and again. That left Mom, me and my little brothers to make things work. Every penny counted. The payments on the park were $400.00 a month. The lot rents were $18.00 and the weekly rentals were 55.00 including lights. I remember we started out with 13 spaces, most of the residents were kin folk at the beginning. When the folks went up to $22.00 a month on the lot rent, most of our kinfolk moved out.
Dad soon increased the capacity to 15 trailers to give us a little breathing room, but he was hindered by the fact that the state law required each mobile home to have its own septic tank and the required footage for a tank, took up too much room. He put weekly rentals in the new spaces. With lights, he charged $55.00 per week.
We collected our rents on Friday, when Dad was around, most every one paid on time. When Dad was out of town due to military obligations some folks didn’t feel the need to pay, either on time or ever. Mom’s way of collecting rent was different than Dad’s, especially after she lost her leg in a car wreck and was confined to a wheel chair.
Mom would send me out after dark to the delinquent renters and I would let the air out of their tires or disconnect the battery cables in their car. The next morning we would sit on the front porch with an air compressor or a set of jumper cables, waiting for them to leave the house. She collected her rent money. If a guy came home drunk and beat the hell out of his wife, Mom would be waiting for him at the foot of his steps when he came out, with a frying pan, she knew how to use it too.
Dad’s way was a little different. Even though it was just business, he took it personal. “Son of a bitch, that’s my money you’re spending on beer and I don’t drink.” Being a Naval Officer, he couldn’t do the personal confrontations. Not that it was beneath his dignity, he couldn’t afford to have his reputation smeared. I’ve seen him as the Officer of the Day, many times when we lived overseas, handle drunken brawlers, he was a man, he wasn’t scared one bit. Instead, he would wait until it got about eleven o’clock and send me to knock on the door, asking for the man of the house. Meanwhile, Dad would stand beside a tree in the front yard or just around the corner of the trailer. My job was to ask for the man of the house. Usually it was some big drunk (when you’re 12 years old, they are all big), that would come to the front door and size me up and say “oh yeah, what do you want?”
Then I would grab them by the straps of their wife beaters under shirt, jump up and put my feet in their belly and we’d somersault out into the dark, landing in the front yard in the dark, out of sight of prying eyes. Dad would then step out of the gloom with his Shore Patrolman’s “billy club” and give them a few short whacks across the noggin, just to soften them up. Then he would reach in their pockets and take his rent money, throwing the rest on the ground. The next day, he bore no ill will. It was “Hi, I’m fine, how are you?” None of these guys would ever tell a soul what happened, I guess it was a matter of pride. How do you tell some one that a 12 year old boy jerked your ass out in the yard and knocked the senses out of you and took your money?
If Dad told me to do something, I did it, without hesitation. Like he always said, “Be more afraid of me, than you are of them.”