Gary and Rae show up Monday morning, they had gotten married and paid down on a lot and a trailer with the money I gave them. Rae went to work on my face. I think she use to work for a Vet, because she seemed to know what she was doing. After about an hour of hot towels and gentle massaging, she got my jaw back in place. She did the same to my eye. Hot, wet towels and gentle massage, then she cut the eyelid of the other eye, with a razor, so I could see, blood spurting every where. She took a needle and white thread, sewed my tongue back together, and my lip, inside and out. Rae took my wad of cash, gave that gal a hundred dollar bill and then called her a cab. Good bye Sweetheart, she saved my life and I never even asked her name.
he Good, the Bad and the Ugly
To celebrate Rodney and Mandy’s wedding, we went to a bar on the Missouri side of Kansas City where they served regular beer instead of the 3.0 stuff. Everything they say about Missouri is true, the good and the bad and the ugly. Gary met Ramona she was waiting tables then, Tex met a gal we named “Toppy Knot,” because she wore her hair tied up in a knot.
Every time we ordered a round of drinks, we broke a hundred dollar bill. Our table filled up with pretty gals quick. We were the party that night. Towards the end of the night, Gary ended up with Ramona, the bar maid. Feeling full of brotherly love, I gave him $2500 to go honeymoon with. Tex disappeared with “Toppy Knot” in her Cadillac Seville. Gary and Rae eloped, took that money and went and paid down on some land in Cherokee Village, Ark.
We had gotten kicked out of the Holiday Inn earlier the day before because of the cops trying to bust us for prostitution, so we went across the street to the Days Inn. The next night after the big party, I was by myself for once. I made the mistake of going back to the same bar as the night before, alone. I didn’t know anybody. After a few drinks and buying friends, I was feeling pretty blitzed when someone taps me on the shoulder. I was told that some one wants to talk to me at the door.
Man, Can you believe that I fell for that again? Just as soon as I step out the door, I see a two by four coming at my head. Too late to duck, I caught it in the face, dislocating my jaw, almost popping an eye out, made me bite my tongue almost in half. I was bleeding out of a tear in my lip and had been knocked to my knees. Holding myself up with one hand I could see out of the one eye that still worked (barely). I could see four sets of legs surrounding me like an octopus, kicking me and daring me to get up. Just about that time, I could see 6 inch long rooster tail splinters rising up from the deck in front of me, and from what I thought was a long ways off I could hear what sounded like far away sound of gunshots, pow, pow, pow. My bell was ringing like I was at the bottom of a barrel.
A big gal that I had bought a drink at the bar, the night before had seen what was happening and came to my rescue. She chased those dudes off, saving my life, with her .25 automatic. She told me later that it was her doing the shooting. She told me they were bikers and that one of the local high rollers that had gotten jealous the night before, paid them. I couldn’t tell if my eye was sticking half the way out or if it was half way in. My jaw felt like it was just hanging, I tried to mumble my thanks. I wasn’t able to talk very well. I tried to push myself away from her, but she was half holding me up, so, I don’t guess I pushed too hard.
My new body guard and I drove Gary’s old truck back to the motel, the same truck we had rolled a few days before. The Holiday Inn had made us move, the cops told us to leave Lenexa, so we moved across the street to the Days Inn, in Overland Park. The motel had just put up brand new chain fence, stringing a chain through the top of 4 x 4 posts like rope, to make it look like a fence. I was feeling terrible, kind of weak in the knees, my whole world was spinning, only grit kept me going. I was hurt, bad hurt but I wanted to get even. I felt like if I laid down, I wouldn’t be able to get back up. This big gal with me had a .25 automatic, and that was all the back up I needed.
I unscrewed both of the eye bolts, took the chain, about a 100 foot of it and put it in back of the truck. We drove the truck back to the bar. I threaded the chain through the spokes of four bikes parked out front. She said they belonged to the guys that snaked me out. I tied the chain to the bumper of the truck, got a running start and headed down the street, dragging the four motorcycles behind me, sparks were flying every where. It was about a mile to the Independence River Bridge, the boundary between Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri.
At the foot of the bridge, I was stopped by Kansas City, Missouri cops. I could tell that they were puzzled and amazed as they listened to my story as best as I could tell it. The gal filled in the gaps as they stared at my face, both eyes bulging, my tongue tore in half, blood dripping everywhere. The big cop told me, “Get that shit out of here man, we ain’t seen nothing.” I don’t exactly remember the gal’s name, but I sure was thankful that she was a good sized girl, because I had my hands full when we got to the top of the bridge. We pushed every one of the bikes over the side into the Independence River. The first one just hung there in limbo because it was still chained to the rest. The second bike made the rest of the bundle slide a little closer to the edge, then when we got the third bike over the rail, it look like a pile of “transformers,” heading for the drink. All four of them together made a real satisfying splash. We watched the water’s surface until the rings from the splash disappeared. She said “That water looks cold.” I told her, “Deep too.”
I had taken a towel from the motel and wrapped it around my neck and my face, blood was dripping everywhere and pulled my Stetson down low over my eyes. Big Girl and I went into the baseball game at Royals Stadium across from Arrowhead Stadium where they played football. I didn’t want to be a “sitting duck” at the motel. It was after the 2nd inning, we got in free. The water fall in centerfield was beautiful but as miserable as I was, I couldn’t see much of it. After the game, we went back to the Day’s Inn. I lay in the bed for three days. The Room Service girls went crazy when they saw all of the blood. I told them to just leave fresh towels, I would be okay.
Gary and Rae show up Monday morning, they had gotten married and paid down on a lot and a trailer with the money I gave them. Rae went to work on my face. I think she use to work for a Vet, because she seemed to know what she was doing. After about an hour of hot towels and gentle massaging, she got my jaw back in place. She did the same to my eye. Hot, wet towels and gentle massage, then she cut the eyelid of the other eye, with a razor, so I could see, blood spurting every where. She took a needle and white thread, sewed my tongue back together, and my lip, inside and out. Rae took my wad of cash, gave that gal a hundred dollar bill and then called her a cab. Good bye Sweetheart, she saved my life and I never even asked her name.
When we left Davenport, we loaded up the two dancers and two cases of ice cold Schlitz. Though they weren’t exactly Dallas Cheerleaderslike we believed, we made them wear their outfits anyway. Willie Nelson himself had bestowed them upon us, making it seem like an honor to put up with their s–t.
We used the Ford Super Cab to pull the Chevy on a tow bar. Both trucks were loaded down with equipment. I got in the back seat of the Super Cab with Mandie. Tex and Blondie were upfront. None of us had very many clothes on. Just Mandie with her pom poms and Tex wearing his cowboy hat.
Tex was drunk and high on life, he was having a time. He was driving and throwing empty beer bottles at road signs when we had a blow out on the rear truck, the ’68 Chevy. We rolled both trucks on I-35, southbound. There were tools, clothes and sales literature for our equipment littered all over I-35 for about a mile. Debbie took “pics” with Gary’s 35 mm., from the T/A has we rolled over. We regrouped in Four Corners, Iowa. I rented a motel room for all six of us to rest and get our senses back. Mandy had broken both of her ankles, although we didn’t know it for a couple weeks later, we thought that she had just sprained them. I carried her in my arms every where we went.
The next morning, using one of our hydraulic jacks and a piece of a 2 x 4, I jacked the roof back up on the Ford. We loaded it down with the equipment from both trucks, abandoned the Chevy and drove on down to Kansas City to join the rest of the crew. We were emotionally devastated by the wreck. I knew that I had to be strong in front of every body else. I rented two trucks and started selling two loads a day. I got just as much for the equipment in it’s tangled, busted up condition as I did when it was pristine. I guess you could say I held a “bent and damaged sale.” I kept one truck loaded for back up at the motel so that I could drop a load and then go right back to work in another truck without having to reload. After a rough start, I wanted to get back to work, making money, most of the time I did. Having the girls with us wasn’t that bad. They just laid around the pool all day looking good and getting tanned while we worked. Good women or bad women, they both cost about the same, which is all you got.
Wayne Holland’s gimp crew were staying at the Days Inn in Overland Park, while we were across the street at the Holiday Inn in Lenexa, Kansas. I thought that the nicer accommodations would help to smooth things over. If I dropped a load for a good lick early, I would spend the rest of the day poolside with the girls back at the motel.
The girls were getting homesick, living in motel rooms and eating in restaurants wasn’t what it was cracked up to be. Mandy told me that she wanted money for a plane ticket, she was telling me they wanted to go home. Unbeknownst to me, Tex told Blondie in private that if she wanted fly home she better start turning tricks. She wasn’t smart like Debbie, get the money and run. No, the poor dumb blonde, she actually did it. Women sometimes, make me wonder.
Debbie was just an accomplice to Tex. To me she was a good friend an excellent working partner if we wanted to scam. She and I could go out and skin somebody with the quickness. We didn’t do it for the money though, to us it was just a hobby, sort of like if the situation presents itself, why not? We made good money every time. She was Tex’s girl, but he couldn’t work with her, he would get jealous in the middle of a deal and ruin everything. Next thing you know, we’d be running from the law after he busted a potential mullet up against the head with a beer bottle.
Finally, I had to take Debbie to the airport to fly back to Atlanta early one morning. Tex had just whipped up on her one too many times for me. I bought her a pair of nice boots and a leather jacket to match at one of those “boutiques” at the airport. After all the time I had spent with her and the money we’d made together, I had gotten attached. She was worth it. Debbie was a real “Road Warrior.” I wanted her to look good when she back to her Grannies in spite of that black eye.
Later that same afternoon, I was sitting under an umbrella at the pool eating cantaloupe and watermelon with “Mandy” my new girl. She was one of the “Dallas Dancers” from Louisville. I was just wearing a pair of gym shorts, and flip flops. I had my roll with about 6,000 bucks tucked in my waistband.
Gary and Tex had sold their load of tools. They came up to us by the pool and after I told them to have a seat Gary said, “Hey this place looks like it’s surrounded by cops.” I said “Thanks for the heads up brother, but they ain’t looking for us.” Just about that time Blondie comes running across the lawn, she sat in the last empty chair and then gleefully says, “Hey, I just turned a trick, I got a hundred dollars.” I was surprised but no time to panic, I knew we didn’t have much time. I slid my saucer with the fruit in it, over to her and told her to put the money under the saucer, take a bite of the fruit then slide it over to Gary. She did this and I told Gary, “Hide that bill, do something with it, get it out of here.”
I had worked for the Sheriff’s Office in Jacksonville and I knew about marked money. Tex and Gary got up from their chairs and nonchalantly walked towards the parking lot. Just as they were backing out of the parking spot, a sea of blue uniforms showed up and clamped down on us. They had us blocked at every corner. Gary had rolled the hundred dollar bill up and put it in a Sprite can. As the cops were closing in, he tossed the empty can of Sprite in a trash bin while he was walking away.
Oh yeah, it looked like the bust of the century in Lenexa, Kansas. They took us all in. I hadn’t seen Gary dispose of the money but I was pretty confident that he had by the way they kept asking us where the money was. When we got there we knew right off, this weren’t no Davenport, Iowa. Oh no, we were in Lenexa, Kansas, the home sweet home of law and order.
I was wearing a pair of sporty gym shorts, no shirt, just flip flops and had sixty, one hundred dollar bills rolled up and tucked up in my waistband. It seems like no matter how much I worked or what catastrophes we had to endure, I couldn’t bankroll any more than six thousand. I told the police that I sold tools for a living and that was my money. They checked all sixty of my bills for their hundred dollar bill, none of the serial numbers matched. Without that bill to substantiate it, they had no case. They kept us for hours. They couldn’t prove anything without the marked money. They kept begging us for that hundred dollar bill, but we wouldn’t break weak and tell them. We just stayed in our character; we were truck drivers from South Carolina. We’re just here to empty out a warehouse. I told them that we kept the girls around for eye candy. I said that while we were out working, the girls did what ever they wanted to. It didn’t have anything to do with us.
The lead detective was a female. She was frantic about needing to get that money back because she was responsible for it and until it was returned, they couldn’t get any more. Their boss had this thing he called, “Payroll Deduction.” I even had the feeling that she was coming on to me. I hinted that it might could be “arranged,” if she were to let us all go. She said, “Before I do that, I want to know one thing. You guys travel the country selling tools, with pretty gals and carry thousand of dollars, well answer me this, are you hiring?”
They let us go, after everyone was safe, I took her to the garbage can, rummaged around and found the Sprite can with the rolled up 100 dollar bill in it, and gave her back the “marked” money. I even took her out to dinner, lamb chops with mint jelly.
The next morning, after I left her house, I flew Mandy and Blondie back to Louisville, I’d had it with road whores. Two days later, Mandy shows back up with both feet in a cast, then, she married Rodney, one of the gimps in the Macon crew. Go figure. Tex found my stash of semi-nude pictures of Mandy with me, while she was wearing some of her Dallas Cheerleader outfits and he flashed them around the wedding party and even sold a few, I think. Rodney Stone out of Macon, Ga., If you read this, it was just business, if you would have asked me, I would have given you the “Pom Poms” for free.
As I start this story, I have no idea where it’s going or how it will end. Bits and pieces come to my mind like flashbacks into my past.
Of all places to begin, I have to start this story in New London, Connecticut or to be more exact, Groton. Groton is the home the Navy’s Submarine School. I went through sub school in the winter of 1970. The weather didn’t permit ever lasting memories. I spent more time slipping on ice and shoveling snow than I care to admit.
My first duty station was the USNS Sea Robin, a diesel pig boat. I was TAD (Temporary assigned duty), until my permanent duty station, the USBNS Thomas Jefferson came back into port.
I was to be assigned as a sonar striker. I went to school in Orlando. After 4 weeks and completion of the training, sent back to New London. My first cruise out, the yeoman (the Captain’s clerk) suffered appendicitis and had an emergency transfer at sea. Boomers endure 90 day cruises underwater, destinations unknown, top secret. His transfer was done at night under the cover of darkness to a sub tender, the USS Orion at sea.
His transfer created a void that needed filling. My billet as a sonar tech wasn’t that glorious of a job. I had to keep fighting the tendency to fall asleep, while pinging and waiting for the ping to bounce back. Since I had taken typing classes two years in high school, I felt qualified to mention to my chief that I could temporarily step in if needed.
There is so much work that falls on the shoulders of a yeomen that the backlog of work demanded my services. Every report has to be typed. All of the Captain’s correspondences, duty transfers, pay chits, leave requests, liberty passes, fitness reports, the Plan of the Day, menus for the galley, just on and on. It was just piling up. My offer was quickly accepted.
Part of my duties involved communications. Confidential, Secret and Top Secret. Every communique sent out by the Navy, crossed my desk. When our cruise was nearing the end of our deployment, I didn’t cherish the thought of going back to being a laborer for the next 90 days. When a nuclear sub comes back into port with the “Gold” crew, it immediately restocks and redeploys with the “Blue” crew. The first week or so the crew that just came in gets R & R, then it’s back to “training.” For guys in the lower ranks like me, training meant working for the First Lieutenant. Chipping paint, grinding rust, applying red lead and then after inspection apply another coat of gray paint on a rusting hulk that sole purpose of existence before retirement into mothballs was for “training” purposes.
I knew that the yeoman should be coming back to work and that I would be assigned to the First Lieutenant’s squad. One day I saw a list of names of men that were to be sent to Roosevelt Roads Naval Base for “Survival” school. In the Navy, the continuous training exercises exist to keep idle hands busy and to prepare you for what may lay in store.
Even though we had completed training in school, we often practiced making escapes from a hundred feet deep. The day time training exercises were bad enough, but the night time “escapes” were terrifying, especially in freezing temperatures. Just the thought of going to Puerto Rico, the warm climate, clear blue oceans and the thought of tropical breezes was enough for me to add my name to the bottom of the list of men being sent to Survival School. I put it in front of the Captain without explanation, he signed it without reading it and off I went.
Survival School was a four week training period. Men that were sent to UDT (Underwater Demolition Training) school had to complete it first, we became a part of that class too.
Our uniform of the day consisted of green boxer shorts with a button fly, a pair of rubber flip flops and blacked out dog tags. We spent so much time in the water training, that anything else would have rotted off of our backs. Before the sun rose in the east, we swam as a group of 50 men to Viaques, an island 2 miles off the coast. Viaques was also used as an artillery range for the big guns on base. During our swim every morning, the artillery wasn’t suppose to fire over our heads but they did at the tail end of our swim, just to get us use to the sounds of gunfire, the plumes of smoke and the acrid smell of gunpowder.
Words just can’t describe how rigorous the training was, we had to swim as a group to keep from being targets for the sharks and barracuda. The chief and a bosun’s mate rowed beside us in a boat, with an M-1 to ward of any uninvited intruders. Salt filled every pore. It caked around our ears and between our fingers. When we weren’t swimming, we were running, barefoot across miles and miles of sand, just knowing that the further you went only meant the further you had to run back.
Push ups, chin ups, jumping jacks, tug of war. All part of the Navy’s plan to transform young men into hard, physically fit, well trained, disciplined sailors. My last two days of training were spent on a life raft. Me and another sailor were dropped off by helicopter many miles off the coast with an eight foot life raft. This was an oval shaped, hard fibered, orange colored raft, with webbing for the bottom. This meant that for the next 48 hours, we were sitting in at least 6 inches of water.
The raft could accommodate more than 2 men, but for me, two were enough. The first few hours aren’t too bad. It’s more like an adventure than anything else. We had a compass, a survival knife, that included fishing gear in the handle, a tube of zinc oxide to cover our noses with, plus our Navy dungaree uniform that we were trained to use as flotation devices if need be.
The constant motion of the waves, the up and down part was nerve racking if you let it. Up and down with the cresting of each wave. One moment you could see the across the horizon, nothing but more waves as far as the eye could see, then the next second you were in a trough, with the walls of a wave, pushing you from side to side. All of that water and nothing to drink, until we broke out the desalinization packs. These were little plastic containers that we use to turn salt water into drinking water. You just tear open a package, fill it with salt water and hold it up until the water drains through the chemicals. We had a total of four packages, two apiece. The idea was to only use it, if you had to have it. In the rough seas, it really wasn’t that easy to do.
My companion was a few years older than I was, our relationship was like “oil and vinegar.” I was optimistic, my glass was half full. He was a pessimist, his glass was half empty. He spoke about the downside of everything. It was constant, “Oh we aren’t going to make it,” or “I bet we get swamped and turn over.” Then it got worse. The sun can do things to you that you can’t plan for, or do anything about.
I would pass the time thinking about my girlfriend that I had in high school. If I mentioned her name or said anything about her to my shipmate, I would suffer through a barrage of comments like, “She’s bending over for the fleet since you’ve been gone,” or “she giving it to your best friends now.” Just on and on, I think the Navy feels like that’s part of your training too. You have to grow up sometime. No time like the present.
When it came time for my raft mate to talk, all he wanted to talk about was the women at the Black Angus. The Black Angus is a famous bar, known world wide for its casino on one side and it’s bar/hotel combination on the other. The bar consisted of mirrored walls that the prostitutes would line up against. The patrons, most always sailors ashore from a recent voyage, would sit at a circular bar. This bar was also a carousel that rotated, round and round. As you drank, you could get glimpses of some of the most beautiful women in the world, all lined up against the wall for the sole purpose of catching your fancy.
If you made eye contact with any of them, they would take it as a signal that you fancied them and sashshay over to start a conversation. Then the next move was to suggest to you that there were rooms available upstairs for privacy.
Well, out in the middle of a sea of madness is not where I wanted to hear this conversation. The sun bore down on us, I was hot and cold at the same time. The sun would blister me and the waves would cool me down. I spent most of the time chattering my teeth while holding on with both hands to keep from being washed away.
It turned out that we didn’t need the fishing kit. Flying fish would jump into the raft. They told us that eating raw fish was good for you. To me, it just made me thirsty. The seagulls flying over head were pests. They kept us company and used us for target practice. I kept wishing that I was back in a nice warm, dry sub.
The raft had a beacon, a little flashing red light that also transmitted a radio signal. After 48 hours, just when I thought that I couldn’t take it anymore, a little dragon fly appeared on the horizon. It turned out be our rescue Chopper. Good ole “U.S. Navy” painted on the side. They wouldn’t help us aboard until we secure lines to our raft, so that it could be retrieved. I had a hard time trying to stand up, my legs were weak, the skin on my hands and feet were wrinkled and shriveled up so bad that I couldn’t use them. We spent the next 24 hours in the base dispensary under observation, then we were discharged, only to be sent back to our permanent duty station.
Before being sent to Survival school, I had applied for a hardship transfer. My mom had cancer and wasn’t expected to live. In my absence, my request was approved. No sooner did I arrive back in New London, than I was transferred back to my hometown of Jacksonville, Florida to VW-4 WEARECONRON FOUR, a weather reconnaissance squadron based at NAS.
A weather reconnaissance squadron didn’t need a sonar tech, my new assignment was working as the Captain’s yeoman, a real cushy job if the Navy has one, this was it. Within 24 hours, our squadron was sent to of all places, to Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico.
We were assigned there to perform during project “Storm Fury.” During hurricane season we were to provide up to date aerographer information to the fleet. Did you know that at sea you can see lightning for 40 to 50 miles away? Well in flight, you can see it further than that. While airborne you can feel lightning strikes when it hits the plane. It can be terrifying. The static electricity in the air will make the hair on your head stand straight up. My job was to keep Commander Marsh, our captain happy, record data and transfer oral radio communications to a written record. To be honest with you, I stayed strapped in my bunk as much as possible, right next to the cockpit, near the Captain, he was the number one pilot, getting his flight time in order to draw flight pay.
The planes we flew in,were “Super Connies.” The Super Constellations were World War II vintage aircraft. WC-121- N’s. At the time, the largest aircraft the military flew, perfect for weather recon. The wings on the aircraft would actually flap, at least six feet in times of stress. Now a days they fly P-3s, a much smaller plane and a rougher ride.
Okay, back to my story. After 3 months at sea on a boomer submarine, then being sent TAD to Survival school for 4 weeks, I hadn’t received a paycheck in over 4 months. I had received some TAD money, living expenses, that was it. In the Navy, you don’t really need money if you are a single enlisted man, not all the time anyway. I didn’t smoke, chow was free, uniforms free, barracks and a bunk, free. There is always coffee and donuts available, plus at the chow hall, there’s “mid-rats,” served all hours of the night in case you get hungry. One good thing about the Navy, the chow was always good.
When my squadron got to Puerto Rico, the Captain saw to it that my pay request received immediate attention. After I was there about 24 hours, I got some per diem money. Now before you start adding it up, when I enlisted, I got 98 dollars a month, plus after sub school, I received a 50 dollar a month hazardous duty pay. While I was in Survival school, Admiral Zumwalt had gotten pay increases approved for all military personnel. My monthly pay check doubled from $98 per month to $198. My first week in Puerto Rico, the Navy owed me close to a thousand dollars. I was still only 17 years old at the time. My first liberty after getting my per diem money, where did I go? No, I didn’t go to the Black Angus, not yet. I didn’t have any friends at my new duty station. When some of the older guys found out that I had some payola, they invited me to go to the “Green Door,” in Ceiba, just off base.
I did take my whole wad, it was about 150 bucks. After drinking a couple “White Russians,” I started buying drinks for my new found friends. I didn’t realize at the time that they were just using me to buy drinks. After they got what they wanted from me, they found my company to be rather annoying. Like who wants to be around a 17 year old drunk?
I had grown up on a Naval base in Gitmo. For a gringo, my Spanish wasn’t that bad. If you are going to “hablo espanol,” you need to learn how to roll your “r’s.” While drinking that night at the Green Door, I met a gal named Lydia that could converse in both Spanish and English. I found that intriguing. She and I struck up an acquaintance. We moved from the bar to a booth. Not the kid of booth you are thinking of probably. This booth was missing the table. Just a little cube with a small juke box on the wall. She and I started dancing together, she was selecting the songs, while I provided the quarters and a few drinks.
When I went to the bar to get us another drink, one of my “buddies” whispered in my ear, that my new girlfriend Lydia was the bar owner’s wife. He was a retired sailor that had married a local gal and opened up a bar off base to provide military personnel a friendly atmosphere to blow some steam. I didn’t pay this skuttlebutt no never mind. I was just interested in dancing and practicing my Spanish.
Soon, someone tapped me on the shoulder and told me that someone wanted to talk to me outside. This didn’t raise any hairs on the back of my neck. I was thinking that Puerto Rico is one heck of a nice place, everybody seems to be super friendly. My curiosity got the better of me, I had to go see who it was and what they wanted. Big mistake. Just as I opened the “Green Door” to step outside, someone grabbed the front of my shirt and jerked me out of the door way. Then I was hit in the mouth with a 2 by 4. After that I got a couple of face fulls of fist. Before my eyes started to swell, I could tell there was a large group of men in the alley that they were dragging me to. I tried to resist and holler out to my shipmates. The Airedale Navy must be different from the Blackshoe Navy because my cries fell on deaf ears. There were more than a dozen of them coming at me. I guess the bar owner was a jealous man and had some clout.
To my salvation, two Shore Patrolmen entered the alley. One of them grabbed me by the back of my uniform, trying to tug me away from my attackers. Once the guys in the alley saw the two Shore Patrol, they came out from behind their cover. These guys were members of the “Los Macheteros.” A gang that makes MS-13 look like the Mickey Mouse Club. They are so feared, that if you Google them, I bet you can’t find any pictures.
The Shore Patrol recognized the group, vanity being the better part of valor, they turned and ran, leaving me in the grasp of this group of killers. Looking back, I don’t blame my buddies at the bar. There were too many to fight and I don’t blame the Shore Patrol for tucking tail and running. Because just as soon as I saw the two Shore Patrol guys get in the their white van and lock the doors, I pulled free and ran too.
I couldn’t get them to open the door to the van, no matter how hard I banged. They were pulling out with at least a couple dozen guys in the mob chasing behind us. I couldn’t think of anything to do, I just reacted. The van was on the verge of leaving the alley but before it did, I got a grip on the rear view mirror and swung my leg over the top. I was riding along with them, even if was hanging on, straddling the mirror, on side of the van, upside down with my face looking at the ground as it sped past.
We made it or I should say, I made it. I spent the next week in the infirmary. My face was smashed in, nose broken and a about a dozen stitches in my face where I caught a blade to the cheek. Those Macheteros don’t play. My Captain was a little perturbed, I don’t know if it was entirely with me or my comrades that deserted me. Any way, for the next few days, he had to make his own coffee, he had to hunt and peck his own reports.
The next pay period, I finally got my back pay. It was a wad too. I was making plans to go check out San Juan and the Castille de San Cristobal that I had heard so much about. Since San Juan was a good 50 miles away, I called a cab to start my journey. When the older guys in the barracks heard that I had gotten all of my back pay and had called for a cab to San Juan, they all wanted to go with me. Funny how after pay day you can always find friends.
I was young and naive. When we got to San Juan, they let me pay the cab fare, fifteen dollars. Then after we got there, they told me that the castle had been there for over 300 years. It wasn’t going anywhere, but while I was in town and had some money, we needed to go to the Black Angus and try our luck at the casino.
At the door we found out about the dress code. I was the only one in uniform, I was wearing my dress whites. The others were wearing civilian clothes. They had to buy a tie to get inside. Me? My uniform came with a kerchief, a suitable tie. Now I kept a roll of dimes rolled up in my kerchief, held in place with rubber bands. Just in case I needed a weapon in an emergency, I could use it as a club or a sling. Plus the five dollars worth of dimes could come in handy too.
The drinks were free as long as we were gambling. I took it easy on the rum, drinking cokes or seven up off of the tray as the refreshment girl came by. My companions were soon separated from their money. Their pockets turned into “elephant ears.” Me, beginner’s luck I guess. I soon won over three hundred dollars playing Blackjack. Since my buddies didn’t have any money left to gamble with, I let them talk me into buying them a drink next door at the bar. I had been hearing all about the world famous Black Angus. My girlfriend back home had stopped writing me, she seemed like a thousand miles away. I was a man of the world now, I figured why not, it doesn’t cost anything to take a look, besides it was my birthday. If I needed any more reason to celebrate, that was good enough.
The bar at the Black Angus was dazzling to say the least. The casino was exciting yes but paled in comparison to the rotating bar, the mirrored walls and the round mirrored globe chandelier that hung over the rotating bar.
I had just turned 18 that day. I was virtually just a babe in the woods. My experiences with girls, yes girls not women, was pretty much limited to the back seat of my Volkswagen at the drive-in theater. Here were at least a hundred of the most glamorous women that I had ever seen in my life. The lingerie section of the J.C. Penny’s catalogue had never prepared me for anything like this. Their revealing outfits left nothing to the imagination. With just a single button or clasp, they could completely disrobe.
How does an eighteen year old boy, recently self declared man of the world, react to all of the bright lights, beautiful women and the intrigue of being in a tropical setting? I sat down at the bar and ordered a drink. “Hey, let me try one of those White Russians.” I turned my stool around a ogled the girls as the bar rotated in a circle, drinking it all in as the room swirled around me.
When I say beautiful, that word doesn’t say enough, I would have been proud to take any one of these gals back home to show off to my buddies from school. If you make eye contact, that shows that you are interested, then the girl saunters over and makes casual conversation. My buddies were all pestering me to loan them some money ’til payday. Yeah, the same guys that watched me get my ass beat, two weeks before. It could have been the liquor, the glamour or just the sheer excitement of the moment. I let bygones be bygones and doled out the cash. I mean these girls just charged five dollars a shot, why not? They would come over and whisper what they would do with you, to you or what ever, for just five bucks. If you decided to go upstairs and get a hotel room, you paid the bartender six more dollars and he would give you the key to a room. The elevator ride was short and sweet. In a few moments you left the world behind and entered “Shangri’la.”
I was going, oh yes, I really couldn’t wait, but first I wanted to be flirted with by everyone of the women before I made my choice. That night, I forgot about every girl that I had met before. I made so many trips up the elevator that night I lost count. I was disappointed in the fact that you had to pay for another room again each time. Soon, I said to hell with the room. I would turn off the power switch to the elevator and just took care of my business there. There’s something to be said about having sex with all the bells and whistles, the red lights flashing overhead and hearing that emergency bell clanging just a few feet from your ears.
After I made about my 5th or 6th trip upstairs, I met Josefina at the bar. It was her birthday too. She told me and to anyone that was listening that for the rest of the night, anytime I wanted to go upstairs it would free, no charge.
Just before reville, the taxi drooped me and my shipmates off at the front gate. We were all hung over. I don’t remember all the money I spent, but I do remember that I spent it all. Josefina had a mouth full of gold teeth. I wonder now, just how many military pay days it took to pay for all of that gold?
I was back to being broke again. Aw heck, I was use to it. The next week end, I didn’t have the money to see the glamour of the island as a tourista. I just took off walking and hitch hiking. I was really enjoying the weather and the beautiful scenery when a light blue Volkswagen (just like mine back home) pulled over to give me a ride. Guess who? It was Lydia driving, she recognized me and gave me a ride. I know what you are thinking. I should of had enough of Lydia already, but my problem wasn’t with her, it was with her husband. She suggested I see Laquio Beach. When we got there she told me that I owed her two dollars. Turns out she drove her car as a publico or public transportation. She and her husband were fighting, she had left him and was doing her thing.
Laquio Beach is beautiful beyond description. Clear, aqua blue waters, white sand, tall graceful palm trees sprinkled above the high water mark. People were skiing in the shallow waters of the lagoon. Most of the women swam topless, some nude. Every one in Puerto Rico is well tanned and I can see why, so much beautiful warm sun. I never wanted to go back to Connecticut again.
After giving Lydia my last two dollars, I was broke. When it was time to leave the beach she drove me to see El Yanqui, a beautiful, spectacular 1,500 foot waterfall. What a spectacle. I told Lydia that I didn’t have any more money but that didn’t kill her interest in me. We left El Yanqui and drove to a fishing village about an hour away. Sure wish I could remember the name of the place. It was on the leeward side of the island or the southern side, farthest away from the Atlantic Ocean facing the Caribbean.
When we got out of her bug, she was greeted by her family members. They owned a fishing boat. I was able to go out with them and check logustino traps. A Caribbean lobster. We made a pretty good haul, when we got back the women folk were preparing a feast, fried oysters, shrimp, crab legs, baked red snapper, with a variety of tropical fruits for decoration. Every one danced on the beach, a typical Saturday night celebration of life.
The beach was sprinkled with little “Cabanas,” straw huts, basically a roof of palm fronds and partially enclosed sides. That’s where we spent the night, sleeping in a swinging hammock. The ocean breeze was strong enough to keep the screaming “meemees” or “no see-ums” at bay. After a couple of Henikens, I slept like a baby.
Lydia’s Dad was a dentist in Philadelphia, he would come back to Puerto Rico six months out of the year to be a priest. After meeting Los Macheteros and a hundred or so prostitutes, it was nice to meet what I call decent people. I got to admit that my first impressions of the people I met down there left a lot to be desired. Puerto Rico is a beautiful place. It’s temptations are great, if you want to be led down the wrong path, it isn’t hard to find company. After spending the weekend with Lydia and her wonderful family, I was happy that my glass was only “half full.”
I could probably add some more to this story, but right now, in my mind I’m swinging in the breeze in a hammock strung between two palms, looking at the white clouds an blue skies, watching the folks skiing across the blue waters of Laquio Beach.
The Thanksgiving holiday is behind us, Christmas not far away. Since I’m not a big fan of the Hallmark Channel, I guess I need to tell my own holidays stories.
Westbound on I-10 just before dusk, many years ago, I see a hitchhiker on side of the road. I had just passed the north bound entrance to 1-75, so I guess it’s fair to say this guy was heading west, same as me.
My hitch hiker, a short bearded fellow wearing a blue flannel shirt, threw his gear, a sleeping bag and a back pack into the rear of my truck and climbed up front with me. I asked him his name and destination. He told me in a very thick French accent that his name was Andre Beaubleur. He was from Ontario, Canada and that he was headed anywhere that he could find work.
I told Andre that if was willing to work, that there were plenty of good jobs to be had. His response was slow coming out, like he was having a difficult time forming his sentence. “Not for one such as I, I am afraid. You see, I have no papers. I am zee lumberjack. In my family I have 11 brothers, I am zee youngest, we cut trees. But to work here, I must have zee papers.
I was sort of surprised to hear him say he was a lumberjack. Andre was kinda small, short you might say, about 5 foot tall. To think of him as a lumberjack was stretching it a might. I asked him why didn’t he cut trees in Canada, don’t they have plenty of trees up there that need cutting?
Andre replied, “Zee bears, I am much afraid of zee bears.” I told him that “the Bears around here play in Chicago, ain’t that a long ways from Ontario?” He said, “No, not zis Bears, but zee bear in za woods, big bears, zey will hunt you and eat you.” Finally catching on, I had to laugh. Little ole Andre wouldn’t have a been much of a meal for a hungry old bear, I don’t think.
I had a six pack of beer in the front seat. I finished the last beer and put the empty bottle back into the carton. Then as we were approaching a highway sign, I asked Frenchy to lean back a might. He did as I asked in bewilderment I’m sure, until I zipped out two empty bottles and nailed the sign as we were passing by.
I think he was impressed because he said, “Sacre bleaur, you are zee marksman I think, you can do that again?” I told him “oh yeah, no sweat, I’ve had plenty of practice, watch this.” Then I nailed the next sign with three empty beer bottles, Looping the first one up high, following it up with two more direct tosses that all ended up in the middle of the next sign at the same time.
Frenchy as I started calling him, came back with “For this I have never seen, you must be extraordinaire, I think.” I told him, “No, I’m from the South, all the guys in the South can do that, it’s just the way we was raised.”
Andre asked me what type of work did I do. I told him that I was a traveling tool salesman, a “Jackman.” He asked me if he could work for me, I asked him, “Doing what?” He responded by telling me that he could take care of the truck, keep it clean, check the oil, clean the windshield, watch my tools when I was away and keep them nice and clean. To top it off, he said, “Merci, pardon me if I may, I will sleep in the truck.”
Well if that didn’t beat all, he was offering to be my French valet. The tools do get heavy when I have to lug them into the motel room at night. To top it off, he said that if I was willing to teach him to speak zee American, he would be very happy to teach me to speaka zee French. This was too much, I had to laugh. Okay, I figure why not, I was just going to Baton Rouge to work, if he didn’t pan out, I could leave him with some Cajuns or something.
From then on, if I got a six pack, he drank one maybe two, he always marveled at my accuracy when I target practiced with the empties. Once I hit the same sign with all six of the bottles at once. He marveled at this for days and would brag to the other guys on the crew about my unique talent.
When it got cold, I let Frenchy sleep on the floor of my motel room. He had his sleeping bag. He refused to sleep in a bed. The first time I let him in the room, he disassembled the the meter on the night stand for the vibrating bed while I was in the shower. When he showed me the stack of quarters, his face was lit up like a Christmas tree.
I let him know that I was pissed about it. I told him that when I needed money, I worked for it, I didn’t steal. I told him he could find more money than that behind the seat of my truck. Later I realized it wasn’t the money that intrigued him. It was just the fact that it was a mechanical device that he sought to outwit. I over looked it and told him we live in motels, we don’t steal from where we live.
Maybe him being from another country had something to do with his morals. It wasn’t long after, that Frenchy showed me another bag of quarters, a big bag. I got mad at him and told him that I thought that I told him to leave those vibrating boxes alone. He used his hands to motion for me to calm down, then he said, “Dis is not from zee motel but from zee booth with zee telephone. I use zis clamp to put pressure on zee box and zee lid, she pop off. Now, we have zee quarters to buy more beer.”
Here I am earning five hundred to a thousand a day, if the weather’s good and this guy is jeopardizing that by stealing chump change again. I picked up a hoist handle using it like a club and slammed the top of the table. I told him that I don’t know how they teach people not to do things up in Canada but if I caught him doing it again, I was going to straighten out his learning curve.
It was getting time for a break. I liked this guy, but he was getting on my nerves. I told Frenchy about my brother and his friend Arnie Fields that lived up in Arkansas. I suggested that we go pay them a visit. Arnie had bought a 40 acre farm for $8,000.00 and my brother bought the land next to it. The Ozark Mountains were heavily wooded and these two tracts of land were nestled between the tops of three mountains and the two valleys in between.
The main drawback to me, were the ticks and the lack of women. If you have money though, the women will come out of the woods and find you, but you have to be in one spot long enough for them to find out just where to look. The tick problem was solved when Arnie bought 200 chickens. Then we had plenty of eggs and lots of chicken and dumplings.
Frenchy was pretty industrious. He went to work building a chicken coop and felling trees for firewood. Most of the trees on the two parcels weren’t that big, two or three year old saplings, about 4 to 6 inches in circumference. We went out to work in Oklahoma City for a couple of weeks, leaving Frenchy in charge of getting the homestead into shape.
It sure was cold that winter, 40 below freezing in OKC. So cold that we had to put cardboard in front of the radiator of the truck to keep it from freezing up. One thing you notice when you work Oklahoma is the fact that they don’t have any trees. My brother Gary and I dropped a load of tools to a feed lot. We sold the feed store owner our load of tools for cash and got a 16 foot utility trailer to boot.
Gary saw a dwindling pile of fence posts for sale and asked the man how much did he get for his posts. The guy told us that since there weren’t any trees for hundreds of miles, that every farmer and rancher needed all the fence post he could get. He said that they were in short supply. He asked us if we knew where he could get any. He said he would pay us $5.00 a piece for all the fence post we could get.
That sparked an idea into our heads. Gary and Arnie probably had 80 acres between them of nothing but fence posts, ready to be cut. When we got back to the farm, we saw that little ole Frenchy had been busy. First off, he had the land around the front of the 2 BR House cleared of any trees and underbrush. That and the cold weather had killed off any ticks. He had cut several cords of firewood near the house and had the wood stacked between trees that grew close together. Then we found that he had taken an old truck that I had rolled over a couple of times and hooked it up to a portable saw mill that we had bought, without a power source. Frenchy had put it up on concrete blocks, took the tire off one of the rims, made a belt from an old fire hose and used the motor and transmission as power for the saw mill. I was afraid to ask where he got that fire hose from. He had a stack of railroad ties cut from oak about head high (his head), about 40 foot across.
We went to work making bridges across the many little streams that criss-crossed the property. Then we parked the trailer, bought a chain saw and told Andre to start cutting some of the thousands of small trees that covered the property into 6 foot fence posts. The next week when we came home for the week end, Andre had that trailer loaded down with over five hundred fence post and another thousand or so laying nearby.
We not only hauled fence post to that Feed Store but another half a dozen as well. There are plenty of tiny cedar trees in the Ozarks, not so many in Oklahoma. The size of these trees may not be good for much of nothing else, but they were plenty good enough for fence posts in Oklahoma.
After about a year’s time had come and gone. Frenchy was ready to see the bright lights of the city. When I mentioned that I was heading back home to Florida, Frenchy begged me to take him with me, so I did.
Driving back home, I always take the back roads, scouting out for future territory to sell tools. We took Highway 82 through Dothan, Alabama. About an hour or two after dark we passed a night spot that looked pretty hot. I couldn’t just pass it by, the next day was Thanksgiving. I just had to have me a couple shots of “Wild Turkey.”
I probably should have told Frenchy to watch the truck. He wasn’t a bad looking fellow, he was just short. His beard had grown considerably living out in the woods back in Arkansas and I couldn’t swear that his “Englise” had gotten any better. Any way, I was having a good time, really enjoying myself meeting lots of new lady friends, next to chucking empty beer bottles, my forte. I saw that Frenchy was having a problem with some big dude across the dance floor and I walked over to see just what the problem was. As I walked up, I could hear the big guy saying “Tell me what you told her.” Then Frenchy saying “I say to her, you give me service?” Now I was kind of use to Frenchy’s bastardization of the Queen’s English, it didn’t bother me that much. He was just asking the lady for a dance, but I could put myself in this guy’s shoes. If some guy come up and asked my old lady for service, I would have got hot about it too.
I knew what was fixing to happen, even before it did. Frenchy was short, this guy was taller than I was. I looked for something to use as a weapon. I spotted an empty bar stool on the other side of the dance floor and I was just about halfway back with it, when the big dude picked Frenchy up by the front of his shirt, held him up over his head and started shaking him like a rag doll. Just about that time me and the bar stool caught up with them, me catching the big man behind the head with the meaty end of the stool. He let go, rubbed the back of his head and turned to face me. I swung the stool again, this time catching him in the knees. Bending down rubbing his sore knee he was just about the right size. I hit him with a beer bottle and he went down.
In the background behind the bar, I could hear some one say, “The police are on the way.” Then far off, I could hear the whining of a siren. I knew we had a few minutes because we were 7 or 8 miles past the city limits. I grabbed Frenchy up from where he had been tossed and herded him to the truck. The name of the bar was the Wagon Wheel, it’s still there. It’s been closed for years though, when I drive past it today, I can still hear the sirens approaching and visualize the police cars as they passed us heading for the bar as we drove back towards town.
The area we were driving past was nothing but pulp wood trees, large, giant pulp wood trees. In my rear view mirror I could see the far off blue lights leaving the bar and coming towards us. I turned off the head lights and drove in the dark, looking for a logging road to pull up in and hide out. Before I could find a road, the accelerator linkage decided it had enough and came apart on me. The motor was running at idle speed but no power. Still coasting, I crossed the ditch and put the truck between two trees before it came to a stop. I was pretty sure it could be seen from the road, so I took off running. I thought Frenchy was right behind me. I shinnied up a pine tree and crawled behind some branches as the police cars pulled in behind my truck. In the glow of their headlights I could see Andre walking out of the woods with his hands held high in the air, hollering out, “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot, I am afraid of zee bears, don’t shoot.” His silhouette against the trees, while standing in the glare of the headlights made him look 10 feet tall.
That damn Frenchy. I wouldn’t be in this spot if it weren’t for him. I only 60 feet from the truck, up in the air. I could see and hear everything. The cops were searching the woods for me with their flashlights. I could hear Frenchy telling them to be careful, I was a deadly accurate shot, he had seen me place six shots dead center, with the truck going very fast.
That little rat. Now he’s got the police thinking I’ve got a gun. I wanted to shout out that he was talking about beer bottles, but I didn’t want to give away my spot. I guess though it served its purpose. The cops didn’t want to search the woods at night for some one who was “a deadly shot.” They might of been scared of “zee bears” too. All I know is they called a wrecker to tow my truck in. I didn’t want to be left stranded in the woods at night. The road was dark and lonely. It was too far to walk back to town, besides I was pretty drunk at the time. The police cars pulled off into the night, one with Frenchy in the back seat. I could see the tow truck driver was still hooking up his chains. I decided that now was as good a time as any.
I climbed down the tree and in the dark I ran to the truck and jumped in the back, crawling under my load of tools, just as the driver was pulling off. When we got to town, the driver put my truck in the compound and shut the gate, locking it behind him. Then the driver went inside, did some paper work, got into his pick up and drove off.
After making sure that the coast was clear, I raised the hood on my truck, hooked the linkage back up on the accelerator. Then I got my spare key out of the tool box that was mounted on the fender, under the hood and a hack saw. I cut the chain to the gate, drove my truck off into the dark, without any headlights.
I found a nearby apartment complex to hide my truck in, parked and got out on foot, searching for the police station. Frenchy might be a rat, but we got into this together, I wasn’t going to leave him behind without trying to get him out of jail. I called a taxi from a convenience store and asked him to take me to the jail. Oh, the driver was a talker. He asked me if I had heard about the police chase and the shoot out. He said that he heard the whole thing on the scanner. The guy they were hunting got away, but he was supposed to be a real desperado, that is according to the hostage that the police had brought in.
Just about that time we pulled up in front of the police station. I’m still trying to figure all of this out but I was in a fog. A shoot out? A desperado? A hostage? That damn Frenchy. I was about to get out of the taxi when I see Frenchy’s blue sleeping back rolled out under some stairs next to the police station. It was him alright. He wasn’t locked up. He told the police that I made him go with me and they believed him and let him go.
The police had gotten a K-9 unit and were headed back out to the woods to search for me. The taxi driver was ecstatic. He couldn’t believe his luck. He wanted to drive us to Jacksonville on the down low to thwart the police. I had to use my head. If I didn’t lead him on, he would call the cops, and he just might do it anyway. I told him to drop us off at the apartments, go fill up with gas and meet us back here in 30 minutes while I said good bye to my girlfriend.
He ate it up. He couldn’t believe his good fortune. He told me he would only charge us us 400 bucks for the trip. I led him on. I agreed to the deal. Just as soon as he was out of sight, I jumped in the truck and went south on Highway 231 toward Cottondale and Panama City, leaving Dothan, Alabama in my rear view mirror.
Frenchy told me that he put the heat on me, to get it off of him. He said that he had no fear that I would get away. That’s why he waited at the Police Station, so that I could find him. That skeezer. I knew that was the truth, it’s hard to think of that good a lie in a foreign language.
The next day in Jacksonville, I needed a shower bad. My funds were getting a little low. The money from the fence post was running out. Instead of getting a motel room, I looked up an old friend Cherie Eagerton. Her parents owned a plumbing company, but her sister Angel worked for the FBI along with Jean Jones, one of my jack buddy’s sister. I sure didn’t need any more heat. Cherie and Angel were cut from two different bolts of cloth. While Angel was my age, she was straight as an arrow. Cherie was a couple of years younger, we had dated in high school. Back then, she looked older than what she really was. Cherie though, was my kind of people, she had a streak of outlaw in her, a touch of the wild side.
Cherie invited us in, she was glad to see me. Frenchy made the small talk, as good as he could I guess. That night, Cherie got a baby sitter for her daughter Amber and the three of us celebrated Thanksgiving at the Wrangler on Beaver Street. I had plans for the next day, leaving early from Cherie’s the next day, she kissed me by at the door and told me to hurry back.
I was counting my money at the gas station when we stopped to fill it up. Frenchy leaned over to me and gave me 60 dollars. I was shocked, amazed, just where did he come up with 60 dollars? Then he told me that he “was the jackman, when you sleep with zee girl, I take zee money from her pocketbook.” Oh man no, tell me you didn’t.
Cherie was my friend, an old girlfriend at that, you can’t steal from my friends. I grabbed him by the scruff of his outdoorsman’s vest and held him up with just his toes touching the ground. I cussed him and told him she was my friend. That we were going back to return her money and he was going to apologize. Cherie was in her housecoat when she opened the door. Disbelief covered her face when I tried to tell her what happened. A single mom with a little girl needed every penny. I couldn’t leave her with that hanging over my head. She seemed grateful but I couldn’t be sure when I left, I hoped she believed me.
Andre and I drove down to Orlando to join up with Wayne Holland’s crew. I needed to drop a load of tools or two to get cashed back up. No one knew the story on Frenchy, he had never been around these guys before. Wayne was gearing up for the Christmas break. He wanted all of his men to get cashed up before the break. He had bought a new brief case with all kinds of fancy locks, to keep his payroll money in. To add incentive to the crew and to fire everybody up, Wayne brought his briefcase full of Christmas bonus cash to the breakfast meeting to show the guys at breakfast. After the breakfast meeting, Wayne and I decided that we would take turns, going out with each guy on the crew to help them sell their load. The when we got back, we would divvy up the Christmas bonus money.
The next morning, our meeting place was the restaurant. Wayne left his brief case in his motel room. He and I made several sales apiece that day, helping everybody out with cash in their pocket and an empty truck for the holidays. That afternoon, with only empty trucks in the parking lot, the crew met back up at the motel restaurant for a celebration. We gathered round, had a big feast. To top it off, for the grand finale, Wayne brought out his brief case to spread the wealth. When he opened the brief case, it was empty. Yeah, bare to the bone. The money was gone. Disbelief all over Wayne’s face. All of the guys were down trodden with disappointment.
The first thought that entered my mind was that damn Frenchy. He was the only one that didn’t work that day. He usually rode with me but I was busy helping every body else. I couldn’t prove it, so I didn’t say anything. Wayne and I hit all the topless bars on the Orange Blossom Trail hoping to see someone spending lots of cash, to no avail. I still blamed Frenchy in the back of my mind. I had brought him into this, I felt responsible. There was 6 guys on the crew and I had earned about $2,800 in two days. I gave each guy $400.00. I told them it was from Wayne. Wayne asked me about it. I told him that I remembered him selling a load of tools with me, when I first started out with him in Orlando a couple of days before Christmas, many years before. He and I sold a load and made $2,890 dollars profit, he gave me all of it. I told him what comes around goes around.
The next day, we split up for Christmas. What goes around comes around. I stopped at a convenience store just before I got to the Beeline Expressway. I gave Andre $20.00 to go in to get some beer. I said we’re going to take some target practice.. Before he could come back out, I was gone.
I don’t have to worry about Cherie being mad at me anymore. About 2 years ago I got a private message from her, no not a friend request. She just wanted to cuss my butt out. She never returned any of my friend requests.
Frenchy? Oh, I think about his turkey neck every Sunday when I’m watching football. Because every week I pull for “zee Bears.” Tres bien mon ami, merci beau coup.
The kitties have decided to let me have a few minutes to myself. It seems they prefer the electric blanket’s company this morning, more than they do mine.
Let me try to use this time wisely, In my dreams I remembered this story. See if you can relate.
Old school, I know. Everyone is tired about hearing how we did it back in my day. Every where you look, people have their face stuck staring at their phone. I wondered out loud to my son, just how did we get along back in the day, without being able to send text messages?
Duh, back in school, we sent notes, via our friends to our girlfriends, via their friends. Little folded up pieces of paper, most of the time the notes started out “Hi, whatcha doin?” I use to fold mine up in a three corner manner like a paper football. You didn’t want to get caught passing notes.
It was better than the Pony Express, it got the job done.
At church was a little different. We didn’t pass notes, we used sign language. My Sunday school teacher, Nell Johnson thought that it would be a good idea to teach sign language in Sunday School. We had a couple visitors to our Church that were deaf, Ms. Johnson thought that we might get more visitors, if there more people that could sign and also I think she wanted to impress others when we went on visitations to other Churches.
For young minds, it doesn’t take very long to pick up new ideas, as a group, my Sunday School Class at Dinsmore Methodist jumped on the idea. We all got pretty good with the alphabet and could spell out our messages in church, without having to pass notes in front of the preacher.
My girlfriend at the time was the preacher’s daughter Gerry. She and I carried on in front of her Dad, he didn’t care. He was ex-Navy, a retired Chief. He seemed to like me because my Dad was in the Navy. I visited Gerry quite often and got to be a familiar face around the church and across the street, at their house.
During the summertime, I got to where I was slipping over to see Gerry after dark, around bed time. After her parents said goodnight, she would open her bedroom window and I would slip in. It started with her having her friend Linda Butler spend the night. Then me and my friend, Wayne Taylor would sneak in through the opened window.
I really don’t know how her parents slept through all of that, it was a long summer. I know that Wayne tried his hardest but I’m not sure that Linda liked him all of that much or if he just tried too hard, but their fussing cut into mine and Gerry’s private time. Finally I told Gerry that Linda was gonna have to stop spending the night with her every week end.
To me, it was worth the wait. Finally, it was just me and her. I got to where I was falling asleep at her house in her bed, with her Mom and Dad in the next bedroom, just on the other side of that wall. Her Dad would get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, I would scootch under the cover and Gerry would pull up the blanket, just in case he looked in. Most of the mornings when he got up to pee, I would gather my things and head back out the window in the dawn’s early light.
Ed, the bread man would honk his horn at me most every morning when I was riding my bike home in my underwear, with my clothes wrapped up in a bundle on the handle bars.
I got my license to drive on my 14th birthday. I got a hardship operator’s permit, because of my mother’s bad health. Soon after that, Dad got me a car. Once I got to meeting all of those new girls at Paxon High School, I sorta stopped seeing Gerry so much, pretty soon, it was not at all. I kept going to Sunday School but slowed down on going to Church. Gerry found out about the girls I was dating over in Paxon, I’ll never forget the last message she sent me.
When you live on the road and your home address is a PO box, you have to make money every day. Motel room, gas, eating out, entertainment, laundry mats and bar tabs, etc., they all ad up, quick. We got up every morning at 6 am, had breakfast at 7, then on the road looking to make a sale by 8:30. Hopefully, you can make a sale early and then you have the rest of the day to goof off.
I sold a load of tools early one morning. I arrived back at the motel honking my Dixie horn, spinning tires and cutting donuts, as usual. Maudie was still brushing her teeth. I asked her if she wanted to go to the baseball park in Arlington to see the Texas Rangers play a game. She wasn’t 100% enthused about it. I think she had her hopes up for Six Flags. Maudie wasn’t exactly a baseball fan, she liked the eight dollar beers alright, but it just something about those 10 dollar Dilly Dogs. She agreed to go, if I would take her out to eat Chinese food later.
The normal game time for most week day games was one o’clock. It gets so hot in Texas that most games are scheduled for later. The start of today’s game was delayed until five for a television broadcast. We got there early. Maudie and I were walking around the outside of the stadium sightseeing and killing time. We saw a white, on white, on white Lincoln Mark V, with the front license plates that read “MICKEY.” Immediately I recognized the name. Hey, that’s Mickey Rivers, he’s the center fielder for the Rangers. He got out of the car wearing a Malcom X cap, sunglasses, and a black jogging suit with a big gold chain. He walked over and started to unlock the gate. I went up to him and started a conversation. “Who’s gonna win the game today? Is Nolan Ryan gonna pitch today? Who do you think is gonna get MVP? Then he acted like he had to go. Before he could leave though I asked him if he would sign my program. He said, “Sure, do you have a pen?” I told him how to write it out, “To Mike and Maudie, enjoy the game.” When he handed it back to me I glanced down at the scribbled signature and I read, “Jerome Johnson.” I asked him, “Who in the hell is Jerome Johnson? Ain’t you Mickey Rivers, center field?” He said, “Who me? Hell no. I’m Jerome Johnson. Mickey is in the training room, I just got his car washed for him.”
It was a great evening for a baseball game. After watching the fireworks from center field and after half dozen stadium beers I was more than ready to take Maudie out to go eat. Chinese sounded good to me. Jerome had told me how to get to a great Chinese place nearby. His directions were a little off though. Instead of coming into the restaurant from the front, we ended up coming in the back way.
Not being familiar with the place, when we saw the sign over the door China Gate or something, we walked right on in, the door wasn’t locked. By mistake, we entered through the kitchen door. On every wall it seemed there were skinned animals of some kind, hanging high up on the wall, from a hook. Immediately I thought they looked like cats, but it couldn’t be. I knew that one hanging off to the side sort of looked like a bluish duck, maybe it was just my imagination. The menus were written in Chinese. I had to ask what each entrée was and was told it was either “chicken this, or chicken that.” Funny, I son’t remember seeing any chickens in the back.
I just ordered some egg rolls and won ton sauce. I couldn’t get my mind off of what ever that blue thing was, hanging from a hook in the kitchen. Not Maudie, she put on the feed bag. She wanted chicken this, that and the other and got her wish. The waitress kept bring her one order after another. She kept saying, “You should try this. It’s the best chicken I ever ate.” A man at the table next to us leaned over shaking his head and told me, “Tell her it’s not chicken, it’s rabbit.” Maudie lost her appetite after that. She got up from the table holding her mouth, stomping her way to the bathroom. I don’t eat fortune cookies, but I won’t ever forget what Maudie’s fortune read “Hare today, gone tomorrow.”
Maybe those 10 dollar Dilly Dogs weren’t such a bad idea.
Billy Bob’s, Ft. Worth
Maudie and I drove all the way from Jacksonville to Dallas, just so I could rejoin my crew selling tools again. We would go door to door pitching anyone that looked like they could write a check. The object is to keep pitching until you find someone to buy your load. Just get them on the phone with Rita, back at the plant and your working day is over.
The first working day, I figured I would take Maudie out with me and show her a deal. I cruised over to my territory that I had outlined on the map. On the way there she kept asking me “What’s wrong with that place, or how come you didn’t stop there? There were a lot of us on the crew and every one signed out separate territories, so we wouldn’t cross paths. She didn’t believe me, she sucked on her lip to show me she didn’t believe me. Why would I make that up? She started staring straight out the window, ignoring me.
When we got to my area, Maudie really turned negative. “This area sucks, or, Aw won’t nobody buy nothing here.” The first couple places I hit, either the boss wasn’t there or they already had a load that they bought last year. After a couple of hours Maudie turned “toasty brown.” I wanted to take Maudie back to the motel and dump her, but she wanted me to make some money so she could go to “Billy Bob’s,” home of the world’s largest bar and indoor rodeo,” over in Ft. Worth. She was afraid that if she wasn’t with me, that I would just go find a nice cool cantina somewhere, play pool and listen to the juke box. I could almost close my eyes and think about, oh it did sound tempting.
Finally I told her, “Look if we’re going to go to Billy Bob’s, you’re gonna wanta wear some nice boots and maybe an outfit Before we go shopping for boots, you’re know you’re going to want to take a shower, right?” Cool, that made sense to her, it was that easy to get rid of her, made me think, “Why didn’t I do that earlier?” After I left her back at the room, I drove back to my area and hit a place where the “bossman” wasn’t in earlier, but I had seen a nice crew cab four wheel drive Chevy diesel parked up front while I was driving pass. I don’t remember what type business it was, but there was a roll top garage door on the side of the building. My pitch was a little rusty, I stumbled and stuttered, it had been about six months since I sold a load of tools. Once I got the boss man on the phone with Rita, it was over. Twenty minutes later I’m at the bank to get a cashier’s check. I “hammered my check” (exchanged it for a cashier’s check), went back to the motel, squealing tires and doing donuts in the parking lot, (it was a jackman tradition).
Maudie came out of the motel room with a face full of smiles, she was beaming. “You dropped our load, how much did we get?” I was almost scared to tell her, what if it wasn’t enough? Well it was more than we had, so I told her I made almost $1,600 bucks and she was ecstatic. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it was at a place we had already pitched. I didn’t want her to think she was bad luck.
We went to Shepler’s Western Wear. I got her a pair of cowgirl boots with fringe up the side, a pair of new jeans, a matching vest and a bright red shirt. We both wanted a hat, so we got matching straw “Roper’s.” I bought me a pair of Tony Llama’s made from “Cayman” skin. Of course I had to get some “boot cut” jeans and a pearl button shirt after all, we were going to “Billy Bob’s.”
“Billy Bob’s,” if you ain’t ever been there is a huge place. They got every thing under the sun in that place; you can even get a haircut or get your nails done. They had a Bar B Que and they had pizza too. The dance floor could hold over a thousand people at once. After a few shots of tequila and some beer chasers, I showed Maudie how the cowboys like to dance, two stepping backwards, every once in a while a twirl or two, always dancing in a circle. She made a cute cowgirl, with her being a rock an roller, I wasn’t sure if she would like it or not.
After a couple of dances and a pitcher of beer or two, it wasn’t long before she started yammering that she wanted me to be one of the riders for the bull riding contest. Uh oh, I knew I was in trouble then. “Like hell,” I thought, “Why would I want to ride a perfectly good bull that ain’t ever done nothing to me?” Then to motivate me, she started making eyes at the guys walking around the bar with numbers pinned to their backs. Catching their eye and acting like she wanted to dance. I knew what time it was. The guys walking around with their number pinned to their back stick out and are real popular. The girls all roll their eyes at them. They walk up to you, drink out of your glass, make eyes at your girl, like you aren’t there. I stood in line for 30 minutes, laid down $25 bucks for the entry fee, got my number and watched Maudie smiling like a little kid as she happily pinned it to my back. Everything was alright then, back to normal. You should have seen her dance then. Hopefully, they wouldn’t draw my number.
Thirty minutes before the riding event, the head honchos hold a drawing and take 15 entries out of a jar. Out of that 15, there will a couple of “no-shows,” guys that change their mind. If your number gets selected you get to ride, if not, you just donated $25 bucks to the winner. I knew I was in over my head. I had ridden mechanical bulls before. I thought that I was somewhat good at that, but I knew it wasn’t the same thing. You couldn’t tell that to Maudie though. I had taken her to go see that movie, “Urban Cowboy” and she wanted to relive the moment, at my expense. If a fellow came up and asked her named, she would roll her eyes back and say “Sissy.”
When I heard my number announced over the loud speaker, my heart went in my throat. Not good news for me but Maudie was ecstatic and gleeful. I was a willing lamb being led to the slaughter. My luck was good though. There were a couple of “old hands” with a twinkle in their eyes, they gave me pointers, they loaned me a pair of gloves and told me not to worry. Just get a good grip, pinch inwards with your knees, lean forward and hang on. They told me that “when the chute opened the bull was going to go left, when he puts his head down, just lean back and try to rake his shoulders with your spurs.” Feeling defenseless I said, “Wait a minute I don’t have any spurs.” To this they just laughed and one guy said that he didn’t really mean that I needed spurs; it was a figure of speech, “Just act like you got some on and rake his shoulders with the heels of your boots. Hey those are some nice boots, where you’d get them?”
They forgot to tell me they were going to yank that “cod strap” around his nuts. Just as soon as they did, through my legs I could feel his muscles tense up. As his chest muscles expanded started swelling up, ready to jump, crushing my legs against the sides of the pen. I looked up and hundreds of faces looking at me. I couldn’t recognize any body, it was all giant a blur. Just then, the chute opened and it was over in less time it took to get ready. What I remember most are the words of the two “old hands” that coaxed me into giving it a try. “These ain’t real rodeo bulls Hoss, they just old docile bulls that are a couple weeks shy of the slaughter house.”
I bet them was tough ass steaks. After the turn, I lasted about two jumps and a crow hop, when he put his head down again there was no time to lean back, I was out of there, head over hills. Nothing was broken except for my pride. I had cow manure all over my new pearl button shirt, but Maudie was as happy as a pig in slop. I mean, she was tickled pink. I guess it was a woman thing. We went back about a week later and I tried it again, this time, I don’t think I was quite as scared but the result was about the same, the bull was better at it than I was. The worse thing about it my privates were swoll up. Maudie started teasing me, calling me “Bud.”