Do as I say

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tool Box

After 10 hernia removals in less than 5 years the doctor told me that as long as I keep doing the hard physical work, I would get more.

After enjoying the physicality of strenuous labor for most of my life it was hard to stop.  Instead of looking for work, I always had plenty.  My crew did roofing, painting, carpenter work, demolition almost anything that was labor intensive.  Seems like there isn’t much competition for hard work.

I decided to heed the doctor’s advice.  At my age it was really a “no brainer.”  I filed for Workman’s Comp.  My belly band has been cut in two so many times that my insides seemed to just slosh around.  Things being the way they are, it took me three years to finally get approved for Workman’s Comp.

When I was finally approved it wasn’t because of the hernias but because of an old back injury I received when I was just a kid, just 15 years old.  In the meanwhile, I had to sell off my equipment to survive and pay bills.  What I miss most were my two dump trucks.  One had a lift, so that I could load materials on a two story roof.

They were older models but they still worked and provided me with a means of getting the job done.  I had to sell off my fleet of pick up trucks, several air compressors, a couple miles of air hose (that’s what it seemed like), shovels, tarps, paint sprayers, just imagine and empty tool shed that was once crammed to the gills.

These were the tools that I used in my trade, to pay my way.

Being energetic most of my life, I had to find a way to earn money to replace the lost income.  My biggest tool was our home computer.  I started writing stories about my life.  That’s really all I knew to write about.  I hoped that one day I would get good enough to possibly sell some short stories.

I took typing in high school, in the Navy I was a yeoman.  I thought that I had what it takes to be successful and even if I wasn’t,  I would be sitting down and resting instead of busting my ass in the hot sun.  There was a need for me to make a new “tool box.”

Let’s see, I had the computer, what else do I need?  A thesaurus maybe?  I had to get a desk blotter to write down all the notes to myself, and then go back through the family picture album to job my memory on certain things.  For that, I needed a printer.  Since I don’t live in the best neighborhood and was inside most of the time, I got a security camera system that my son installed for me.  Now I can keep a sharp eye on my little niche in the world while I try to beat out enough stories to earn a living.

Easier said than done.  Writing the stories wasn’t hard.  It seems I have led a life and a half already.  Now the editing, that’s a different story.  If I spent two hours writing, it seemed like it took twice that to edit, maybe more.  Once you put it down in print and reread it, you can always go back  to try to improve it and that takes more editing.

Everything became time consuming and the money just wasn’t coming in.  I thought that I needed more tools for my literary tool box.  I joined writer’s websites, I got a blog site to practice on unknown reader’s, then I looked for sites that advertised for new writer’s and new stories.

All the meanwhile the bills weren’t getting paid, I would have to sell off one of my cherished tools for fractions of what they were worth.  It got depressing, not to mention I got fat, sitting on my duff.

One day my grand daughter who was living with me at the time asked me for a kitten.  Her mom was in jail (not sure why), but I had spent 4000 dollars to keep her out of jail last time.  This time I didn’t have it to spend.  My son said he would raise his daughter while his girlfriend served her time.  What he really meant was that his parents would raise his daughter while her mother served her time.

Getting back to the kitten, I was visiting some friends in Georgia.  Their cat had had kittens, he was a Himalayan.  At the time I didn’t know one breed from another.  They gave me one.  I gave them a hundred bucks, which they graciously refused.  I left it on the coffee table.

My grand daughter Claire loved her kitten.  She could get that cat to do things that were unbelievable.  She could be seen pushing a baby stroller with a cat inside, all dressed up like a little baby.  What a pleasant sight, to see such a happy child.  You couldn’t put a price on it.  It was priceless.

Claire’s Mom got out of prison.  She would come and get Claire for a day or an evening and then bring her back.  She and my son had gone separate ways but we were still her grand parents.  Then it got to where she would be gone a month at at time.  When she came home, first thing Claire wanted was her kitten.  Well this kitten was now a cat.  A big beautiful feline.

Claire cried, she wanted a kitten.  Well Kosmo was beautiful a real heart warmer.  One of the neighbors had moved off and left their female Siamese.  Kosmo was infatuated with her and we soon had Claire another batch of kittens.

Baby’s Mama drama stuff, Claire was in and out for a year or so.  Once the kittens started getting some size to them, I put them on Craigslist for 50 bucks apiece.  They were gone in an hour.

The next time we got to see Claire we had a new batch of kittens, she was ecstatic.  Just what she wanted.  She cried every time she had to leave them.  The ones she got close to last time were gone but she focused her attentions on the ones we had.  After she left, I ran another ad on CL.  I got to thinking, the last ones sold pretty fast.  Maybe I should go up on the price, to $150 and see what happens.

They were all gone the same day I posted them.

I googled Rag Doll kittens after I saw two of Martha Stewart’s on TV one day.  She said she paid over $5,000 apiece for them.  As I watched the show, I got interested.  I said to myself,  “Hey, her kittens look just like my kittens.”  I google what’s the average price for a Rag Doll?

I was shocked, wow, I can use that kind of money.  The tool shed was getting bare.  Times were hard.  Also, Claire’s mom decided she wanted to start a new life and didn’t want her daughter to be around us or anyone that knew about her old ways.  We didn’t get to see Claire much at all at first.  Now, none at all.

Looking for a means to earn some money and still waiting to hear about my disability pay, I decided to try and expand on the kitty income.  I kept three females.  Thinking this would help.  This endeavor meant I needed more tools and a different kind of tool box.

The Fire Dept. across the street is a training grounds for new firemen.  They keep the light on all night and put their uneaten chow out for the strays.  The was a draw for all the neighborhood cats to gather at night.  My male Kosmo would go over in search of a new girlfriend or two.  When he wasn’t at the front door in the mornings, I just figured he was down the street and would return, eventually.  It never happened.  I walked over to the Fire Dept. to ask if anyone had seen my cat.  A female EMT took me to one side and said that a couple of the guys were admiring my cat and decided to throw a blanket over him and put him in the trunk of one their cars.

She told me this on the promise that I wouldn’t mention her telling me.  This was two weeks later.  I didn’t know how to tell the fire chief my plight without mentioning the lady.  I just figured, he’s gone.

My tool box was practically empty again.  I searched on line and got another male.  The kind folks I got him from had a female that didn’t match their group.  That’s where I got Pepsi.  My other cats were Seal Point (Siamese looking), but Pepsi is a Blue Lynx point (with the striped face).

My new male had a harem when he come to live with us.  I didn’t want him to suffer the same fate.  I built a back porch onto the house.  We named it Kitty Heaven.  It has walkways and hiding places suitable for cats.  I put shades on the outside to block the sun and installed a shade of plastic that I could roll up and down for bad weather.

More tools? You bet.  I needed a Vet.  Someone who wouldn’t overcharge me and who’s location wasn’t far off.  I found Dr. Swanson in Callahan.  My cats and kittens aren’t sickly but just like children they can get sick and need proper medical care.  Also it boosted my sales to provide them with proper shots and vaccinations.

I went up on my price a few more times at the Vet’s urging.  Now I can afford him and the light bill too.  Craigslist doesn’t allow animal sales so I found a site named Hoobly.  Hoobly was the answer to my prayers.  People from all over the world started sending me messages about my kittens.  A man from Bangkok bought two of my solid white kittens.

I noticed the guys at the Fire Dept. shooting a bow at an improvised target one evening.  The next day, my new male Shorty was in a ditch with a hole in his side, about the size of a quarter.  He survived.  I crossed the street to express my feelings.  I don’t know if it did me any good but I didn’t lose another male to the Fire Dept.  Shorty lived for about two more years.

The more kittens/cats I got the more tools I needed.  Feeding dishes, I found out that it’s not good to feed cats out of plastic bowls, they get kitty acne.  I searched Google when I had a behavior problem.  That helped.  I got all the females their own personal bedding.

Cats have kittens 3 times a year.  It wasn’t long before Kitty Heaven started being Kitty Hell.  I needed more room.  I built a closed in room on the front side of the house and made it deluxe.  The walls are covered with vinyl siding to make it easier to keep clean.  I got the high dollar vinyl flooring, easier to keep clean. They have more cubby holes and places to run and hide, than I’ve got cats.

Now I was finally earning enough money to keep up with the bills.  My Disability started coming in, about half of what I expected.  Things were getting better, much better.  I shopped at Sam’s Club so I could get salmon and tuna at a better price.  One of my cats, Bunny won’t eat anything but deli sliced oven roasted turkey.  I was getting cereal in the 50 lb. bag.  Every Thursday, I would get two rottisserie chickens for them a treat.  Speaking of treats, I am using a large container of Kitty Treats every other day (30 ounce).

Litter boxes is what every one hates about cats.  They have to be cleaned everyday.  I have 11 litter boxes.  My Dad was a multi millionaire when he died.  His new wife arranged it so that my brothers and I didn’t get a dime.  I think my Dad would be proud that I found a way to make a living off of “cat shit.”

Back to my story.  I’m off of disability now, that has been some years back.  I got to missing my old tool box and the toys I had, that everyone else call “tools.”  One by one, I started to replace some of the things I had given up.

Since my wife likes to garden and she is very good at it, I decided to try to make her some “yard art” to compliment her efforts.  Bird houses, wishing wells, many things to fill up the empty spots between the flower groups.  I started to post our projects on line.

It wasn’t long after that, that I started getting calls, e mails and messages.  Hey My roof is leaking can you come look at it? Or the guys they already paid have run off and didn’t finish the job or I’ve been waiting on my brother to do this or that for two years.

Time for another tool box.  I soon got a request from an old realtor friend to fix up a rental she had to resell.  She sold it within a week after I finished, for a big profit.  I had bought a new paint sprayer, a popcorn gun, different types of saws, nail guns, compressors, pressure washer, screw guns, on and on.  I finally got my tools back. Most of them anyway.

One job leads to the next.  I don’t do the heavy duty work nowadays, I leave that for someone else. I started building screened in rooms and decks.  One lady had me replace the windows in her hundred year old house and replace the siding.  Just working about a half a day, I managed to get it done. The paydays now, are a lot better than they used to be.

I am still waiting to get paid for writing stories, it just hasn’t happened yet.  They say that if you just write for money, you are wasting your time.  The time I spent in front of the computer, typing and editing allowed my body to heal, did pay off though.  I am a lot more active than I have been in a long time.  The hernias have been in my rear view mirror for a long while.  Ms. Joan called me with another house to remodel and she really overpaid me this time.  She had just moved back from California and I think she paid me what folks get paid out there.

I guess the dump trucks for me, are a thing of the past. Besides paying my bills, I took the money I’ve made and bought my son a truck and me a riding lawnmower.  I spent all this time writing about my cats but let me tell you at age 67 after getting my first riding lawnmower, I’ve found that it is true what they say.  “Nothing runs like a Deere.”

 

 

FS Who

Two stories in one, what a deal.  Do you ever get the feeling that someone is reading over your shoulder?  Who’s doing it?  Why?  Okay may it is coincidence.  When I write about my dreams, I want to claim ownership.  This happened so long ago but it seemes like it happened to me everytime I tried to write something wait, I’ll explain later…………

…..Waiting for the traffic light to change and there it was, I couldn’t believe it, not after all of these years.

A 1976 Ford Granada, painted maroon and yellow.  A car like that sticks out and there can be only one.  I was selling cars for Duval Ford back in 1977.  The boss had put a bonus on all of the ’76 model cars for incentive to move them out.  The last 1976 new car was a maroon Granada. At a sales meeting one morning, the sales manager asked for ideas to help move the car.

Someone suggested painting the top yellow, to make it enticing to a Florida State football fan.  I’ve always rooted for the Gators, so I was against it, but my opinion didn’t count.  Still, there was a five hundred dollar bonus on the car, even after a couple of months; it still sat on the showroom floor.  My rent was due, the wolf was at the door, that’s all of the incentive I needed.

I tried to keep one eye on that car everyday.  One day a guy walked up to it drooling and gasping, rubbing his hands all over it like it was Alladin’s Lamp.  The way his hands and fingers kept sticking to the car made me think of “Spiderman”.  We made our deal, but before he drove off, I asked him why he liked it so much.  He told me that he was an FSU fan and that after losing another game, he found it depressing when he tried to leave Doak Campbell Stadium.  It was so hard to find his car in the midst of the 70,000 plus cars.  He thought that this color would stick out much better and he wouldn’t have any problem finding it.

A few weeks after that, I sold a truck to a “Shriner” with an unusual trade in.  The boss had ran an ad on TV saying, “We’ll trade for anything.”  This “Shriner” having read the ad, brought in his camel to trade in on a car.  Yeah, we made the deal but my boss had told me that since it was my trade in, it was my responsibility to sell the camel or trade it for something more valuable.

Soon afterwards, here comes that maroon and yellow Granada.  I knew who it was right away, when I seen the car.  I wanted to run and hide, because I had already spent the money I made off of him, but on second thought, curiosity got the better of me.  You have to have the “go for it attitude” to sell cars and I did.  I opened the door, helped the guy out, shook his hand and asked him how the car was working out?  He said “not so good”.

He told me that at first, it was great.  Even though they lost, he could find his car but after a couple of weeks, every body was driving maroon and yellow cars and he was back to square one.  He even tried putting an orange Styrofoam cone on the radio antenna, so that he could pick his out.  The next week, FSU lost like 42 to nothing to an unranked team like usual.  When he left Doak Campbell stadium to find his car, there were  near 70,000 maroon and yellow cars that had an orange cone stuck on the end of the radio antenna.

That done it, he wanted to trade cars, find something unusual, so he wouldn’t have to face that problem anymore.  A light bulb went off in my head.  “Hey, I’ve got just the thing.”  I showed him the camel we had out back.  He was reluctant at first.  “What am I gonna do with a camel,” he asked.  Finally, after reminding him of his situation, I talked him into it.  The kicker was he would only said yes on the condition that I would ride with him on it to the next game on Saturday, which happened to be my weekend off.

Sitting seven feet high in the air, we paraded down Tennessee Avenue.  We past miles and miles of backed up game day traffic, finally arriving at the stadium in time for the pregame warm ups.  It was a great game, Florida won, beating FSU something like 50 to nothing. We joined the exodus of people leaving the stadium and low and behold, there were several hundred, maybe thousands of hump back camels as far as the eye could see.

Not to be deterred, my customer went from camel to camel, raising the tail and inspecting the rear end of each one.  After a couple minutes of disbelief, I just had to ask him, “What in the heck are you looking for?”  He said, “Not to worry, I’ll find him.”  I hollered out, “Find who?”  He answered, “On the way up here when we were wading through the traffic, I kept hearing people shout out, “Hey, Look at the two assholes on that camel.”

This story came back to me in my dream.  I got up in a hurry to write it down before I forgot it.  Just as soon as I finished writing and posting, I clicked onto Yahoo News and an eerie feeling ran up and down my spine when I saw the ad on top of the page.

cam989

Singing River

“Singing River.”,       I’ve told you the story before, haven’t I?  If I remember correctly, I didn’t tell y’all the whole story.  Every one remembers the Pat Boone song “Running Bear and Little White Dove?”  About how White Dove, an Indian maiden who was also a princess of the Biloxi tribe.  White Dove fell in love and eloped with “Running Bear”, a young warrior from a warring neighboring tribe, the Pascagoulas.

 

The Biloxi tribe far out numbered the much smaller and weaker tribe of the Pascagoulas, and surrounded them on the banks of the now named Singing River, demanding the return of White Dove, or face their complete annihilation.  The larger tribe forced the other into the river at low tide and wouldn’t let them out until White Dove was returned.  She refused to leave Running Bear and his tribe didn’t want to show dishonor, so they stayed in the water and as the tide returned they began chanting their songs and praying to their maker.  After the ebb of the tide, there was not one of the Pascagoula tribe left alive.

 

To this day, the area between Gautier and Pascagoula is called, “Singing River.” It is said (and I have heard it many times) that when the wind blows at night, you can hear their chants and voices still, wailing in the wind especially when there are whitecaps.
.     The song was about this area and this is the scene of my story…… Allen, a high school chum and I both worked for the city of Jacksonville.  He worked for County Clerks Office and I worked for HUD. We both had dead end jobs and wanted to improve our standing and we would meet at lunchtime and go read the bulletin board about what new positions would be available and what qualifications you needed to have to get a job that paid more money.  We both figured that a Court Clerk would be obtainable, if we studied up some first.  We had been in Jr and Sr high school together for 6 years and knew each others mental aptitude, figuring that we could study together and hoping to get a promotion of over $250 a month.  We met at Hemming Park to eat bag lunches and to study every day for about 2 months.

Allen had got us a copy of the Court Clerk’s manual and we read it out loud, made spelling words and used plenty of high lighter.  Then I got hired by the Sheriff’s Office as a Corrections Officer first, no brainer for me, but Allen did take the test, passed it and was promoted.  He and I then go our separate ways,

After 2 years, I left, I ended up working for Carolina Tool for several years.  One day before I leave for Houston from Jax, I decided to call Allen’s Mom to see how he was doing.  She gave me his number and told me that he had moved to Gautier, Mississippi, 101 De la Pointe.  Before I go any further I need to clue y’all in a little something about French people. To us, they are cajuns and coon asses, but to them, they are French, superior to everyone else.  They can speak English without an accent, but choose not to, and love to drop French words somewhere in every sentence, just to remind you, that they are “French.” and you are not.

Since Gautier had its own exit on newly finished I-10, I decided to surprise Allen with a “drive thru.”  “Hurricane Allen,.” (no relation) had just blown through, devastating the countryside. Allen told me that he working as an Office Manager for a group of 7  prominent brothers and their families and their multiple businesses. The McVeys (full blooded Cajuns. They called them selves the “Black Irish.” (But they weren’t Irish).  They were into everything. One was a county judge, one was a contractor, one was a realtor another owned a car dealership and so on.

Since Hurricane Allen had torn up the area, they were the heart and sole of restoration effort.  They had a contract with the Federal Government and were paid to collect the debris from the wayside, then they sold it back to them as land fill.  Since one brother’s dealership supplied had the trucks and equipment, they leased them to the Feds.  They charged the Government by the pound to remove salvageable equipment and debris, then sold it as they saw fit.  They owned the salvage yard.  Even paper, cardboard, tin, trees etc.  They would mulch up the trees and sell them back to the gov’t as landfill.  Making money hand over fist.  Just as soon as I stopped in for a visit, they gave me an apartment, told me they had lots of stuff for me to do, then put me to work.  Allen told me not ask about money, it would be considered an insult.  I wanted to run, escape.  What have I gotten into?  Allen looked like he could use some help and some of the sons had beautiful daughters.

The picture up above is the Singing River, I took from my deck, the first morning I was there.  Darrel the car seller wanted me to build him an equipment barn, 35 X 60. My helper was Allen, who wasn’t much help.  Everyone else was too busy hauling in debris and scrap.  The McVeys kept stealing my helper, Allen was a gringo that spoke Spanish (like me), and they needed a translator for the guys at the salvage yard.  I told them my Spanish was a lot better than his, let him finish this damn building and let me be the interpreter.  We finally just built the “shell.”, good enough for what Darrel wanted, besides that he was already on to something “new” and needed our help.

Y’all have heard of “Bye La Batri.” (of Forrest Gump fame)? Bayou la Batrie.  That wasn’t too far, just the other side of “Tillman’s Corner”, right before you get to St. Elmo.  If I wanted to go fishing, all I had to do was show up at the dock and tell one of the Captains that it was his lucky day to take me fishing.  The McVeys owned all of the docks and sold fuel to the vessels at the pier on credit.

Almost every single afternoon, no matter what the job was, it could be “hands on” labor, white collar,(running the office) selling cars, hauling debris no matter what, at the end of the day, one of the brothers would show up with about 10 lbs of boiled crawfish and a couple of cases of Jax beer, put them all on the hood of the truck (no cooler) like a giant buffet and that would last until another brother showed up with 10 more lbs of crawfish and more beer. I got to practice being a real coon ass, by learning to suck the fat off the top of the head and chase it down with luke warm beer.

 

We all ate dinner together, about 8pm, almost every night at Granmi’mer’s house.  Coat and tie was mandatory.  We stood and held hands while we prayed, (them in latin), thankful for our blessings.  Dinner was set on a large mahogany table, 12 fine silver rimmed china plates and always an empty chair and plate at the head of the table for Granpe’ire, who had already passed.  Only family business was allowed to be spoken at the table.  Granmi’mer took an interest in me, felt like I was being interrogated by her, but I soon found out why.

 

The judge’s daughter and the realtor’s daughter (he later became a State Senator) were graduating from a girl’s finishing school in New Orleans.  I can’t remember the exact name of the school, but it was something with “Cross” in it (like Cross Pens). The school was having a gala event.  Large banquet held at the Fountain Bleu Hotel, being sponsored by French designers and they wanted the girls to walk the “runway.” showcasing their new designs.  All of this time, for the 3 months I’d been working, but never received any actual payola.  I typed payroll checks for a lot of people, but none for myself.  It was always “If you need anything, just take it.”  Sign for petty cash, drive any car off of the lot you want, charge the gas, free rent, no light bill, eat with us, go to the beach with us (Biloxi Beach is nice but there is a better one in Ocean Springs), what ever was happening, they made sure I went along.

 

One day the two daughters were together and they wanted to buy some weed.  They stopped a guy walking down the road and asked him where could they get some pot.  He took their money and walked up some steps at an apt complex, but before he got out of the car, he grabbed Carla’s necklace out of the car console.  Just about the time they started to holler at him about the necklace, he took off running.  Knowing that they had been stupid but not wanting to tell Mom and Dad, they came to me and told me what had happened.

 

We jumped into my truck and started cruising up and down the beach front and all of a sudden they started shouting, “There he is, that’s him.”  I drove right up in his face, he almost stuck out his thumb but realized too late that giving him a lift wasn’t what I had in mind.  I pushed the door open and knocked him down, before he could get up, I was on him, one fist full of shirt and the other knocking out teeth.  He screamed “It wasn’t me, you got the wrong guy”.  I almost believed him, he sounded so sincere.  I still had a good hold on him when I stood him up for the girls to get a better look.  That’s when I decided to pull off his shoe and out flutter a wad of money. I asked the girls what did they give him and they both said “3 tens”, that’s exactly what he had.  I let him taste some more knuckle sandwich and asked him what happened to the necklace? He said he didn’t get it, just about that time I grabbed his other shoe and guess what I found?  Yep, your right, the necklace that Granmi’mer had given Carla for her sixteenth birthday.

 

So this is why, I think that Grandmi’mer was taking an interest in me.  She asked me did I have I ever worn a tux?  How tall was I?  Do I know how to Waltz?  I told her “yes M’am, 1 step forward and two steps back, Mom made sure that I knew how, long ago.”.  Long story short, they wanted me to be Carla’s escort to the event.  The judge handed me an envelope with $3,000 dollars in it and told me that he “would consider it an honor,” if I would escort his daughter to her school graduation.  To me, the money was equal to about 3 months pay, which I had earned.  I should have known that there was more to it than that.  I told him sure “but only if I could wear my new Tony Llamas”, so they rented me a tux and had it tailored to fit down in the back (boot cut).

 

I’m pretty sure that they knew how crazy teenagers can get on graduation night and since they trusted me, and were around me everyday, wanted me to act as chaperone, which was cool, she was a lot younger than I and we were all family.  The event was held in the ball room of the Fountain Bleau Hotel, an iconic landmark.  We celebrated and danced on the ballroom floor.   We suffered through all of the awards, then the girls went behind the curtain to change for a “fashion show.”

 

Our dining tables were placed around the “Runway.”, what they called the “frow.”

Mine was at the very end. I had been drinking champagne from a crystal wine glass all through dinner.  When Carla walked out first, she was beautiful, one of the local Jewelers had offered necklaces and bracelets to compliment the designs; Darryl told me had bought $50,000 dollars worth himself.  I guess I had a little buzz going on when I stepped on one chair and then unto the runway, held my hand out to Carla and paraded her up and down the runway about 3 or 4 times.  When you have the spotlights on you and a spinning mirrored chandelier in your face, it’s easy to lose count.  We got a standing ovation, it wasn’t for me, no it was for her, she was really beautiful.  In front of her family and friends, this was her moment.

 

We all ended up on Bourbon St., Canal and Rampart, I got loaded (yeah, me the chaperone), we weren’t driving anywhere, our rooms were at the Fountain Bleu (about the 14th floor).  I tried to recreate the moment at Pat O’Brien’s after about three “Hurricanes”, by walking prissy on the bar, trying to imitate the girls.  I didn’t realize I was drawing attention from a crowd of gay guys, but the girls came to my rescue shooed the gay guys off and we walked through the French Quarter all night until the sun came up.  It was early evening when we finally made it back to Gautier.

The clouds were gathering, in the wind blowing towards us, I thought that I could hear chanting and the crying voices reverberating over the cresting waves.  I walked down the river bank to Grandmi’mers.  I saw the kitchen light on and knocked on the door.  When she answered, I said hello and I gave her the back the envelope (I knew where it came from all along).  I asked her, “What do I need money for?”·

Henry Mann and his Samurai Warriors

Suzuki jeeps were hot back in ’87.  My brother Gary was a salesman for Coggin on the Arlington Expressway.  I had retired from selling cars a few years before.  I called myself and entrepreneur.  I sold cars and boats in my front yard, built decks and gazebos, sometimes a portable building.  Gary would bring his work home with him, telling me about his “almost deals” that he couldn’t close out.  Me, big brother with all of the experience would oblige him and tell him what to do to make it work.  I had given up on car selling here in Jax.  Sell 20 to 25 cars and only make $2,500.  No way Jose.   Then,  I spent two years in San Antonio working at North Central Ford for the same guy that owned the Spurs, Red McCombs.

The economy must have been a lot better in Texas because when I sold 20 cars a month there, I earned around $8,000 a month, plus getting free tickets to the Spurs games and winning/ free trips to Cancun and Acapulco.  I ended up giving these trips to the Finance Manage and the Used Car Manger.  These were the people that helped me make it.

After we moved back to Jax.  I lost heart in the car business and started building decks and gazebos out of cypress.  At the end of the summer my business slowed down and with winter coming on, I got to worrying about Christmas for my four boys.

Gary and I were drinking coffee early one morning and he started coaxing me into going back to selling cars again.  He told me that the Suzuki Samurais were cheap and hot sellers.  The place he worked for was Coggin Suzuki on the Arlington Expressway.  They got plenty of traffic.  He also told me that since Coggin financed their cars through GMAC, they could get anybody financed, since they kissed the paper.

That sounded pretty good to me.  Here was an opportunity to go make some good Christmas money.  I asked my brother if he thought that his boss would hire me in the middle of the month, 10 days before Thanksgiving.  He asked me, “Are you kidding?  I’ve already told him about you.  He asks me every morning if you’re coming in today.

Since Gary had paved the way for me, I figured why not?  I had never even heard of a Suzuki Samurai but I knew they had  a used car lot full of GMAC repos.  GMAC will finance anybody on one of their “repos” with a down payment, driver’s license and insurance and oh yeah, a job.  I started licking my chops.

The boss man was Gary “K.”  Don’t ask me how to spell it, please. Kazcoski, Kaslowski, Kawasaki.  Gee, I just called him Mr. “K.”  He welcomed me to work and told me that he would appreciate it, if I could show the young men in his crew some pointers.

I told him the best way I knew was to lead by example and I walked out on the point.  As I stood on the point waiting for an “Up.”  I watched the young daredevils at Kona Skate Park, across the Arlington Expressway.  Some of those guys were pretty good.  I watched them get airborne, do flips and 360’s.

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My first morning went just as I planned.  I hustled, caught as many ups as I could.  By the end of the day, I had three deals in finance, all used cars.  With Coggin, they signed all the paperwork, dotted the “I’s” and crossed the “T’s”, took the trade-in and let them roll, burning gas, pending financial approval.  I was told not to worry about that.

“You just sell cars and we’ll get ’em financed.”

The Samurais were a little different.  I had to be shown how to work the convertible top a time or two and build up some product knowledge.  The sand dunes behind Regency were close by.  Every time I caught  a young Navy guy for an up, I would drive us to the gas station on the corner, buy two beers and put the top down.   We drove the back way into the dunes going down Mill Creek  Rd.  After a few minutes of whizzing up and down the dunes, I could tell that my strategy was working.  It was time to head to the Finance Office.

Just in case my buyer was still skeptical, there was a topless bar on the service road to the expressway.  I had been down there a time a two on test drives and had prepped the girls to help me close out my deals.  For every customer they helped me with, I would send the girl that helped me a $25.00, “Bird Dog Fee.”  The girls would come out to swoon over the potential buyer’s new jeep.

“Oh I like this, are you gonna come back and take me for a ride?”

I’d tell the gals thanks.  I’ll see you with another one as soon as I can.  After getting back to the dealership, it was just a matter of pointing the new buyer towards the Finance Office, done deal.

To say that Gary “K” was happy is putting it mildly.  He clapped me on the back and told me that he could see new enthusiasm spreading among the sales crew.  He asked me if I had any ideas that might help out.

I told the boss that we should “trick up” a few jeeps.  He agreed.  We started putting wood grain panels on the sides to make them look like the Old Woodys’.  Then we put on different colored tops, tan, silver, leopard skin, even denim.  Catlin Griffin on Main street wood add power windows and door locks, fancy tires and wheels we even had a few custom paint jobs to make them look like they came straight out of a a Miami Vice TV show.

The Jeeps came in with a $3,999.00 price tag from the factory.  Coggin would boost it another $2,500. with undercoating, dealer prep, an extra special wax job.  Once we started doing the add-ons with the extras from Catlin, the price soared to around $12 to $14,000.  They sold faster than ever.  Since Coggin “backed” the note, the extra profit was easily financeable.

Even with success, my daily routine was about the same.  I came to work, got a cup of coffee and assumed my position on the corner of the concrete apron, guarding the point looking out for unsuspecting buyers.  Across the way, the Kona skateboarders were hard at it, especially when they were getting some “air.”  They were amazing to watch sometimes.  Christmas was coming up it gave me and idea.

We got paid every week. Sometimes my pay checks were in the thousands, with Christmas coming up; I went over to Kona Skate Park to look for Christmas ideas, stocking stuffers or something.  I got sticker shock at first.  Guess what?  Skateboarding ain’t cheap.  I have four boys.  I can’t just buy one of them skating stuff and tell them to share.  So if bought one helmet, I had to buy four.  It was the same with the knee pads, the wrist pads, the elbow pads, not mention 4 pairs of “Sketchers.”  I decided to put the stuff on layaway, go earn some more money and come back and pick out the skateboards on the next payday.

My first paycheck at Coggin was around fifteen hundred dollars bring home.  I was pissed.  I was expecting much more.  I went to the girls in the office to find out why my check was short so much.  Oh, they said they were just looking out for me.  They didn’t want me to have to pay all that money in taxes one week and then the next week, have a zero check.  Oh, I got hot about that.  I know how it is.  The girls in payroll don’t make that much money, they type out the big checks for the good salesmen and the bad ones alike.  Maybe they figured that some of the guys don’t earn that much and are their friends. Maybe they were jealous and were just trying to even the playing field.

I got the attention of the Office Manager and told her that I want all the money I’ve got coming, every payday.  If I have to pay $400.00 a week into Social Security, then that’s what I pay.  I wanted my money, all of it.  Mad enough to chew nails, I had to get Gary “K” into the argument.

I told the boss, “If you think these Jeeps were hard enough to sell before my brother and I started working here, just wait and see how hard they are to sell when we go across town and start working for Pete Kirill.

That did the trick.  The next week I grossed around $3,800.  My bring home check was $2,700 and some change.  The way I looked at it I’m not interested in the gross, just in how much I take home each week.

Having a good feeling about my earning capacity, I started going by the skate park after work.  You could get a cheapo skateboard at K Mart for around twenty bucks.  Looking at the customized blank boards alone, the price was over a hundred bucks, twice that for a “Tony Hawk.”  Then you add the price of the axles, the polyester wheels, “the trucks,” and then the rails, the nose pad, mouthpiece and so on.  It wasn’t cheap,  times four.

I bit the bullet.  I gave them a deposit and made my order for the best of everything.  Heck it was just money.  Coggin was paying for it, not me.  My pockets looked like elephant ears when I went to work there and now I was paying close to four hundred dollars for a skate board, plus the safety equipment that went with it and oh yeah, don’t forget the math, because it was all times four.

The month of November was coming to a close.  Now that I had a goal, I was more inspired than ever.  I drove past the dealership late one evening.  I saw a couple of black kids eyeballing the Samurais through the windows.  They left big handprints on the glass in the dew.  I had seen their paw prints on the windows in the mornings.  I remember thinking that Spiderman must have paid us a visit.  That gave me and idea.  I started putting my business cards under the wiper blades of all the cars on the front row.

Within days this started to pay off.  We got a flurry of young black customers coming on the lot holding a business card, mine.   Gary K was amazed.  Almost every one of them had some money for a down payment, but not all of them had a job that would qualify them for finance.  I asked them where they got the money and they told me about their “boss.”  They worked and had jobs, just not on paper.  I told a few of them to, “Tell your boss to come see me.”

Early one morning I caught an up and introduced myself, “Hi, I’m Mike Frailey.”  My “Up” was in his late 30’s, early 40’s.  A well dressed, be speckled black man with balding hair.  He carried a brief case with a chain, cuffed to his wrist.  That really caught my attention.  He introduced himself to me as “Henry Mann.”

Business is business.  I don’t care if you are black, white or green.  Money talks and B.S., well B.S. walks and I don’t let any body walk until I’m sure they can’t buy a car.  I asked Mr. Mann what could I do for him, because he obviously came looking for me.

He asked me if there was somewhere we could go to talk.  I thought about the sand dunes behind Regency Square or the topless bar down the street but after looking at his well tailored pinstriped suit, his gold watch and cuff  links,  I nixed that idea.  I asked him to follow me.  I walked towards Gary K’s Office, it was empty.  I passed his secretary and asked her, “to hold all my calls please, I’m going to be in conference.”  I ushered Mr. Henry in and asked him to have a seat.  Then I shut the door and asked him what was it that I could help him with?

Mr. Henry told me that he employed a group of men, under the table.  They made good money.  As long as they worked for him, they represented him.  He wanted them to look nice, dress nice and drive a new car.  New cars were expensive, he said that he wanted something with a little flash and pizzazz, but he didn’t want to break the bank.

At first I thought he was interest in a couple of the little Suzuki cars.  They were new, cheap, got great mileage.  He said “No, he wanted Suzuki Samurais, the Jeep.”  Quickly adjusting my way of thinking I said, “Sure, why not?”  He described to me what he wanted.  He preferred vehicles with a lot of flash.  Leopard skin tops, Chrome chain steering wheel, power windows, locks, air conditioners, with stereos and cassette players, custom chrome spare tire covers, the whole nine yards.

“Wow, I told him, that one is gonna cost you some money.”  He said,   “Well, I drive a Jaguar, I’m not worried about the money and I don’t want just one, I want eight of them, all jade green.”  If you ever heard the saying “Jaw dropping,” well mine was on the floor.  At first, the devil on my right shoulder was thinking this guy is pulling my leg.  Then, the angel on my left shoulder started whispering, “What if he’s on the level?”  I had a pretty good idea where the money was coming from but feigned indifference.  After all, I’m here to sell cars.  Where they get there money from is their business.

What convinced me was when he opened up his briefcase and showed me stack after stack of hundred dollar bills.  Now we are definitely speaking the same language.

I knew off the top of my head that a fully loaded Samurai ran about “12 to 14 something,” list price.  At that figure there had to be around 5 to 7 thousand dollars mark up.  Plenty of profit.  I didn’t need a calculator to times uh, say at least 6,000 dollars profit times, then times 8 equals, uh hell, that equals a lot.  It was over a hundred thousand dollars grand total.   Then I had to add the 4% sales tax that we had at the time, title fee and tag fee.

I think the total was around a hundred and twelve thousand plus tax.  He offered a hundred thousand even.  That was a lot of money.  I believe I had to loosen my collar a couple of times.  I still had to get the boss’s okay on everything.  When I walked out of the office I could tell that Gary K was steamed at me for using his office.  Once I showed him the stacks of hundred dollar bills with the band still wrapped around them, I think he cooled off.

It took about an hour and a half to count all that money two or three times and close out our deal.  We bumped him up a little bit, you have to or they’ll back out.  Gary K came in, sat down and kept my mullet busy, while I went out on the lot to if I could find eight green jeeps that hadn’t been to the custom shop yet.   I still needed to get their serial numbers, fill out eight separate buyer’s orders, then fill out the odometer statement and the title applications.

The only stickler to the deal was we had to verify insurance.  I had to get Mr. Henry to give me the names of the drivers.  I needed to verify their licenses and get them insurance before they could drive the car off the lot.  After my conflict with the Office Manager and her clerks, I knew I couldn’t get paid until the paperwork was done.

My next chore was getting Mr. Henry to give me their names and addresses.  He knew their nicknames and street names but he said he didn’t know their legal names.   After a few minutes he came up with Robert Johnson, Ronnie Jackson, Richard Jefferson, aw heck I just started calling them “RJ.”  Every one of these guys lived in the projects.   Phoenix Ave.,  Brentwood, Blodgett Holmes, Emerson Arms, Durkeeville.  I started cruising the projects in a new Suzuki nights after work, trying to hunt the new owners down.   I wanted to hurry and close this deal before it went sour.  I wanted to get paid.  This just seemed too easy.  At first, no one was home, I would leave my card to no avail.  I realized that these addresses was where they “stayed,” not where they lived.

Maybe I look a lot like a cop, I thought.  I started leaving my tie in the car.  I got my brother Gary to ride out with me every night trying to find these guys.  I told Mr. Mann that I was having problems.  He would call these fellows on the pager and find out what corner they were on and tell them I was coming by in their new Suzuki Samurai.

That did the trick.  As luck would have it, none of them had a driver’s license.  Oh, they might be wearing a shoulder holster with a Glock or a Mac 10, but not a driver’s license.  I had to take a car load of these fellows down to the DMV to get their license.  It was easier in those days, not as much of a hassle as it is now.  Elizabeth Pendarvis was a family friend and she was a supervisor at the DMV underneath the Fuller Warren Bridge, she gave me a hand.  Some of the guys couldn’t read and needed to take the test orally.

Next was the insurance.  No body had insurance.  None of the guys wanted to give up any of their cash to get it either.  When they found out that they needed to make a down payment on the insurance, they went “MIA.”  I still had to chase these guys down on the corner to find them and tell them how important it was to get that insurance, then they could be riding in style.  I got one of my insurance friends that would come out on the lot to write new policies’ to ride with me. If I remember right, his name was David Gray.  Every time he wrote a new policy he would give me a fifth of liquor as a finder’s fee.  I didn’t drink at the time and would give the bottles of booze to the Used Car Manger or the Finance Manager.

For my motivation I kept watching the guys skating at Kona, thinking that all I had to do to get paid was to finalize these last few deals.  I got my brother to help me; I was scared to go out alone in a flashy car, wearing nice clothes, running the dark streets in the city projects.  Christmas was on the line.  I did what I had to do.

I just know those gals in the payroll office sure musta hated typing that check.  I told Gary K that if I didn’t get paid one hundred percent of everything I’ve got coming, I’m quitting.  He told me to calm done.  He said that his paycheck depended on the size of mine.  The more I make, the more he makes.

Then I heard that the Office Manager came up with the idea that it was too much money for one guy.  She came up with the plan to make Mr. Mann’s purchase a “fleet deal,” and to give me a $200 dollar commission per vehicle.  I was afraid that I might lose that big pay check.  It wouldn’t be the first time a salesman got pencil whipped out of his pay.

The last week of November 1987, my gross pay was over $14,000.   My bring home pay was in the neighborhood of $8,500.00.  Even so, I found out later that the office girls trying to be sneaky, withheld money anyway, making a $1500 dollar mistake conveniently in the company’s favor by over charging on the tag and title fees.    After I got my paycheck, I quit.

One morning a few weeks later, I was sitting at the kitchen table looking for the want ads in the newspaper and drinking coffee with my brother.  On the front page I read that Henry Mann had been arrested for dealing drugs.  It was the biggest crack cocaine bust in the history of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office at the time.  The story in the paper described how sophisticated an organization he had.  All of his men were rounded up and arrested for selling drugs.  The paper also mentioned they were all driving around in the projects in matching sporty new Suzuki Samurais.

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My boys had their greatest Christmas ever.  I have no idea what my gross pay was, but for the month I brought home close to $12 thousand dollars.  I started at Coggin Suzuki about 10 days before Thanksgiving and sold 22 cars that month.  My picture was in the paper, “Coggin Suzuki’s Salesman of the Month.”  I never did go back to selling cars after that.  Like those kids at the skate park, I just figured that I’d done my best and I would  just go out on top.

Lumber City Bootleggers

Sitting in a jail cell for 3 days in Hazelhurst.  Most of the time the only inhabitants were just me and my son.  I had plenty of time to think.  How did we get here?  More importantly, how am I going to get us out?

The only time we got to see anybody was when the trusty came by every evening and asked if we wanted anything from Burger King.  That was our only outside contact, except for one or two other prisoners that came and went.  As long as we had the money, we could eat.  If not, we had to do without.

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My granny had just passed away, only a few days before.  She and her twin sister had been residents of the Lyon’s County Nursing Home for the past 16 years.  We had celebrated her 100th birthday only a few years before.  Both she and her sisiter Anne Sue suffered from Alzheimer’s since before they ever took up residence.  Mom had 4 brothers and 3 sisters.  The ones that were still alive shared the responsibility of taking care of them, if not every day, every weekend.

Aunts Evelyn, Irma and Alice kept the trail to the nursing home wore out.  Meanwhile,  Uncle Ray’s wife, Aunt Jane worked at the  Hazelhurst Nursing Home, where Aunt Lena resided.  That is, until Aunt Lena and Aunt Jane both passed away.  Before she passed, Aunt Lena left Uncle Ray her property.  Instead of living in her old house, he put a new 14 by 70 mobile home next door.

Uncle Ray’s was a gathering place for visiting kinfolk.  Aunt Evelyn and her husband Bob, lived nearby in Alston.  When Granny’s 100th birthday came around the nursing home was packed full of family members that gathered from near and far for the celebration.

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Granny Sharpe passed away on a Friday.  By Saturday Uncle Ray’s yard was slam full of cars and trucks with out of town and out of state tags.  Granny was over a hundred years old when she passed.  She had eight children and plenty of offspring.  When we gathered, we celebrated her life.  It didn’t take long to run the local liquor store out of beer and booze.  Even the conveience store ran out of beer.

Back in those days, most of south Georgia was dry.  Some places had recently opened up to sell alcohol but there wasn’t any place opened to buy alcohol, on a Sunday.  To say that my Uncle Ray was tore up about his momma’s passing is putting it mildly.  He told me that if I would drive him in his Cadillac, he would take me to a bootleggers where we could buy more beer and booze.

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Uncle Ray knew everybody in the surrounding area.  He knew every trail and how to avoid the places where the cops would put their road blocks, a common practice in south Georgia.  When we left his house to re-up on the beverages, we left a houseful of people anxiously awaiting our return.  If Uncle Ray had an addiction, it was gambling.  We couldn’t pass a store with out him wanting to stop to get a scratch off ticket or if he saw a road sign with a number on it, he had to play that number on the three digit lotto, I forget what they call it, “pick three” I guess.  I wasn’t much of a gambler.  When we drove down highway 52, he had to get a ticket on 052 or 520.  When we got to 319, he just had to stop at the next store to play it, just in case.

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In those days the Amish community was in full force.  It seemed like everywhere we went, we would have to drive slow to go around a horse and buggy.  The driver would always have a beard so it was hard to recognize them.  Their buggies were always black, with a black cover.  Their horses were undistinguishable because they were usually solid brown, no blaze and no stockings.  Every buggy would have a large orange triangle on the back.  The same as used by farmers when moving their equipment on the highway.

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On this day we passed a black buggy heading in the same direction as us, we slowed, waved as we passed and proceeded along the river until we came to a place on the right that had a big white sign in the yard.  In large red letters on a white sign were painted the words “Madam Rubys.”  My guess, she was a gypsy fortune teller.  We had to hunt for a place to park because the yard was packed full of Cadillacs, big Buicks and Oldsmobiles and a few high dollar trucks.  I noticed a large sattelite dish in the side yard.

I felt a little uncomfortable when Uncle Ray said to me, “Get out, let’s stretch our legs.”  I felt even more so when we opened the screen door and entered the house.  It was dimly lit, smoke, loud music and voices came from everywhere and unless my eyes deceived me, all the occupants were black.

“Good Lord Ray, I thought, what have you got me into?”

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We were soon greeted by a large black woman with a big toothy smile.  Uncle Ray said, “Let me introduce you to your cousin Ruby.”  I could have been knocked over with a feather.  Is this a joke?

Ms. Ruby gave Uncle Ray a big hug then asked, “Who’s this Ray?”

He answered her with, “This is Christine’s boy, Mike.”

Hearing this Ms. Ruby smiled all the more, if that was possible.  She said “Lord have mercy, this is little Mike?  Child, I haven’t seen you in ages, not since you use to stay with me when your Mom sang on the radio.”   Now I can remember quite a ways back, but them days were news to me.

Uncle Ray filled me in later.  He said that mom and her sisters had a gospel quartet that sang on the radio in Vidalia after I was first born.  One of the songs she sung was “Take an Old Cold Tater and Wait,” with Little Jimmy Dickens way back in the day.  Jimmy’s wife was from Baxley.

Then he added, “Ms. Ruby is my second cousin.  We were all raised together, went to school together and even went to church together.  Her family lived on Daddy’s (my Grandpa’s) farm.”

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Ms. Ruby hugged my neck too and welcomed us in. Everyone in attendence already knew Uncle Ray but she made sure to introduce me to everyone.  There were several TV’s with football games playing on each one.  Several card games were going on, even a crap game.  I heard a noise in the back and looked out the window and saw a group of men ranting and raving at two roosters wearing gaffs, going at it, tooth and nail.

I heard someone say, “What’s up Ray, you got me a number?”

To this Uncle Ray replied, “I sure do, I got your number when I walked in the door.”

Uncle Ray focussed his attention back to Ruby and told her under his breath, that he “was looking for some alcohol, whatchu got?”

Ms. Ruby just laughed and said, “I shoulda known, the only time you come to see me is on Sunday when you want something to drink.  Well, you just gonna have to wait a few minutes, it’s on the way.”

It wasn’t long after that, while I was trying to watch a football game, being careful with my words so that I wouldn’t accidentally place a bet, I noticed that Amish guy with his horse and buggy pull in the yard and drive to the rear of the house.  At least I think it was the same guy.

It wasn’t long after that, Ms. Ruby came into the room with two 12 packs of tall Budweisers amd a fifth of Smirnoffs.  Uncle Ray played a couple hands of “Bid Whisk,” lost his money and needed my help to stand up.  It took a couple of minutes but we made it to the car.  I hadn’t been drinking yet that morning so I was okay to drive.

Ms. Ruby came out to the car and told me that, “She was sorry to hear about my Mom and my Granny passing and for to come back and see her sometime.”

As we made our way back to Uvalda, I had to slow down to pass that same Amish guy and his horse and buggy.  I waved but he didn’t return my wave.  Those Amish folks sure liked to keep to themselves.

When we got back to Aunt Lena’s old place the front yard was packed with even more cars and people.  Kids running everywhere, taking turns on the riding lawnmower where Aunt Lena used to raise dandelions and goats.

 

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I think everyone stayed up all night talking and laughing but me.  I fell out.  I got up at the crack of dawn to make coffee and survey the damage.  There was a mess everywhere.  I made my way around the house with plastic bags, emptying ashtrays, solo cups and picking up half empty beer cans.  My oldest son Michael was home on leave, he was an early riser too.  He helped me clean up.  The funeral was supposed to be at 2 pm.  That didn’t leave us much time, both of us were scheduled to be my granny’s pall bearers.

Rural Georgia doesn’t have door to door garbage service like they do in the big cities.  Instead, they have dumpsters spread out actoss the county.  After loading up four large trash bags of empty beer cans and liquor bottles in the back of my truck, Michael and I set out to find a garbage bin and take out the trash.

We drove in the direction Of Hazelhurst, thinking that there should be a dumpster before we reached the county line.  As we drove down the high way, I saw a sign that read, “Junction 319.”  I wondered if any of Uncle Ray’s numbers hit.  He might wake up rich if 319 came in.  I had to slow down to pass another black buggy.  I couldn’t tell if it was our bearded bootlegger or not, but they sure did favor.

Driving up to the county line I could tell that the dumpster was full, overloaded with trash spread out on the ground.  I kept going, crossing the Altamaha River Bridge.  From the top of the bridge, I spotted a dumpster next to the boat landing.  After braking and turning in to approach the boat landing I saw a sign that read, “Now entering Altamaha River Basin Game Preserve, No Alcoholic Beverages Allowed.”

Since we weren’t drinking, I didn’t pay that much attention to the sign.  I parked the truck.  My son and I walked down to the river.  I don’t know if it was just looking at all that water or what, but we were both ready to drain some of that coffee and stepped behind a tree to do so.

As we were leaving the boat ramp, I pulled the truck up to the dumpster and got out and started tossing the trash bags into the dumpster, also throwing in one or two loose cans that had been rolling around in the back of the truck.

No sooner did I do that, than a guy wearing a camouflage uniform stepped up out of the trash bin and hollers, “Stop, you’re under arrest.”  Then out of the woods came a swarm of  GWC deputies, including the Hazelhurst Sheriff.

I guess you can say it was a baited field.  As they handcuffed us and started searching the truck for contraband, they told us that a law had been passed six months before about bringing alcoholic beverages on state property.  That law had gone into effect, today.  We told them that we didn’t have any alcohol, we were just using the dumpster.  In response to that, they said that an empty beer can or liquor bottle represented an open container, in violation of the law.

My son Michael had been trying to quit smoking.  He tried smoking Sir Walter Raleigh pipe tobacco in a cigarette form.  He had heard aboard ship that the raunchy taste was a good way to quit smoking.  When The GWC officers found his cigarette butts in the ashtray, they wrote us up on a couple more charges.  Possesion of an illegal substance, introducing an illegal sunstance to state property.  We told them it was tobacco.  They told us they didn’t have a means to do a field test.  It had to be sent off to a lab.

I kept thinking they were joking with us, maybe this is a nightmare or something.  They took us to the county jail in Hazelhurst.  They just locked us up without reading us our rights, checking our pockets or removing our valuables.  We didn’t even get a phone call.

For three days we sat in that cell.  We didn’t see the first officer, except for head count around midnight.  The only other prisoners were trustees.  We didn’t get fed.  Usually, around dinner time, the trustees would come by and ask us if we wanted anything from Burger King.  If we had any money they would get it for us.

On the third day we were surprised by the arrival of a new prisoner.  He looked mighty familiar.  A tall fellow with a beard and wearing a suit of dark clothes.  At first our new companion didn’t talk much.  When the trustees came in to get the money for our supper, we gave them money for him too.  Afterwards Mr. Amish gave a long, lengthy prayer.  While we were eating, he told us that he had stopped at the same dumpster that we did by the river, searching for aluminum cans.  The same goon squad that accosted us, got him too.  He had a few smashed up beer cans in the back of his buggy.  When they searched his buggy further, they found unopened cans of beer and a couple jars of unlicensed booze.

Those Amish people must be tight with a quarter.  After we ate, an officer came in to take the Amish guy to be booked.  The jail wasn’t much bigger than a Cracker Jack box.  We could hear them talking as they finger printed him and took charge of his money.  That Skeezer.  He had hundreds of dollars on him.  I bought his meal because his clothers were threadbare and his boots were scuffed up, he looked broke.

My son and I were never officially booked.  We weren’t charged with a crime.  After seventy two hours, they let us go.  When we got home, everyone was upset with us.  The people that we had bribed to make a phone call, never did.  Our folks had no idea were we were at. We missed my Granny’s funeral.  They had to get someone else to step in to be pall bearers.

I try to avoid Hazelhurst these days.  When I have to cross the river, I take the back way through Lumber City on that old ricketity  bridge.  Even though I don’t stop, when I drive past my cousin Ruby’s, I honk the horn and wave.  When I see a three digit number on a gas sign or a highway marker, I think of my Uncle Ray.  The Amish have moved on from the Altamaha River Basin.  Except for family funerals, so have I.

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Dog Days of Summer

Oh the dog days of summer, so many years ago.  Watching the lightning strike at night takes me back.  The summers at my grandparents, the lessons learned and events that bring me here to where I am today.

Judging by the skies illuminating like a blinking caution light, makes me think the folks up around Brunswick must be “getting hammered.”  That’s what my granpa use to say about the folks in Waycross in the late summers of my youth, when we were watching the far off lightning streaking across the sky.

Summer nights during the rainy season we would all sit on the front porch and watch it rain.  For medicinal purposes my grandparents would sit and rock, taking turns sipping dandelion wine from a mason jar, that granny had put up last spring.  “Taste bitter,” I heard Granny say, to which Granpa replied, “Aw, it’s probabaly just the iron in the water.”

I remember watching her brew up a batch in a two gallon crock pot.  Dandelion blossoms, raisins, oranges, lemons and their peelings thrown in the mix.  My brothers and I had picked the dandelions special for her at Aunt Lena’s.

Granpa was a farmer, his whole life he’s been tilling the red Georgia clay.  His favorite saying was like a second breath.  “Lord knows we needed this rain.”  Everytime I heard him say it,  I wondered what in the heck does he mean by that.  I guessed it was because he wasn’t the one emptying all those pots and buckets and moving them around to catch the drippings every time it rained.

I remember some of those leaks were probably my fault.  Granny took the switch to me for cussing when Aunt Irma pinched me one day.  I shinnied up the drain pipe to the roof to get away from Granny.  I pulled off the wooden shingles that Grandpa had nailed over the tin, throwing them at who ever tried climb up to get me down.  That is until Granpa coaxed me into changing my mind, promising he would make granny put up her switch.

Soon after, Granny volunteered us to go stay with Aunt Lena over in Uvalda for a week or so.  Granny and Aunt Lena were second cousins.  Before she married Granpa, they were rivals for the same boys at the square dance.  I guess the animosity lingered on.  My cousins, Cindy and Linda were visiting and staying with her.  Granny must have been mad at Aunt Lena I suppose.  When we climbed into the back of Granpa’s old truck she didn’t kiss us good bye, rather she shooed us off like varmits with a motion of her broom, while she was sweeping the porch.

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Aunt Lena lived near downtown Uvalda, just across the bridge.  She had a 20 acre parcel, 10 acres on each side of the highway.  The land around her house now a lush green meadow, once produced large crops of Vidalia onions.  Her men folk long gone now, it just produced dandelions and provided a place for her goats to graze.

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The other side of the highway she let lie fallow and it had grown into a largely wooden thicket.  In the spring and summer she would rock on the porch and stare at the beauty of the lightening bugs and fireflies across the way.  So many, aw so many.  Their bio-luminescent glow would light up the woods like a bunch of fairies full of mischief.  Much better than watching TV.  Hundreds of thousands of the airborne beetles would remind us of the awesome power of Mother Nature.

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My cousins were glad to see us.  The more the merrier.  Cindy was my age, Linda a little older.  Linda was always large and in charge, she reminded me of Granny when she tried to boss us around.  All she had to do was squint her eyes at Cindy and scrunch up her nose to make her cry.

Sunrise usually meant that the goats had left us a mess on the porch.  Linda would see to it that it would be our job to draw water from the well to wash it off.  I had gotten use to the taste of Grandpa’s iron water but I never could get use to Aunt Lena’s.  I can still taste the sulphur.  Just thinking about it makes me want to spit.  The goats were all over the place, they came and went as they pleased.  Aunt Lena, even in her advanced years would milk them to make cheese.  We helped her turn the crank on her new churn until she turned her back to us and then we would be gone, off to play by the creek.

Goat’s cheese,  to me yuck.  I know people must have really liked it, because they would stop in to buy or barter for her product.  Folks on the way to the market in town would bring her greens from their garden or when they killed a hog, links of sausage or a cured ham. I wouldn’t even think of trying any of her cheese because all I could think of was the goat crap I had to wash off the porch every morning.

When it came time for a bath, Aunt Lena would hang up a sheet on the back porch for privacy.  Then she would heat water on her stove to fill the wash tub for my cousins to take a bath.  When it was mine and my brothers time to get clean behind the ears, the sheet would come down and we would bathe in the same water as the  girls. We were told that we didn’t have anything they hadn’t seen before and that  girls don’t get as dirty as boys, so the bath water was still clean.

We pretended not to mind so much, knowing that once we got our bath, Aunt Lena would tip the wash tub full of soapy water, over the edge of the porch to drain it.  Then the ground surface would pop up dozens of big earthworms trying gasp a breath of fresh air.  We would collect these worms and put them in an old bathtub we used for our worm bed, kept in the goat barn.

My brothers and I made a sign, “Worms for Sale.”  I nailed it to a tree by the road near the creek.  When the water wasn’t rushing past after all the rain, folks would fish off the bridge.  We made a lot of sales.  Just as soon as we had enough coins in our pocket to make a jingle, we would rush to the General Mercantile only a few blocks away, to fill our mouths full of candy and buy firecrackers.

My cousins, my brothers and I watched Aunt Lena brewing up a batch of dandelion wine, we wanted to help.  She told us to go across the street and pick the dandelions that  grew on the side of the road and just this side of the woods.  I asked her why not just get them from meadow behind her house.  She said that goats probably peed all over them and that always made the wine taste nasty.  Then she said  “I’m saving them for your granny.”

She had us gather the blossoms on a bright sunny day when the blooms were at their best.  Wanting to be helpful, we would grate lemons into what she called “zest,” the same with the oranges.  We watched her add cane sugar and raisins, then slice up the lemons and oranges to add to the mix, along with a packet of yeast.  After boiling the mix for a few hours, she would spread a cheesecloth over the top of the crock pot and put in a closet to ferment for a few days.  Once the concoction stopped bubbling, she strained the pot and poured the contents into mason jars and empty wine bottles.  She placed the jars and bottles on the shelf in her pantry without a lid to make sure the last bubbles of fermentation had escaped before she put on a lid.

Country people being thrifty, Aunt Lena added the left over squeezings to the mix when she made fruit cake.  It was delicious.  Aunt Lena would hold up the jars to the sunlight and tell us that, “The best parts of summer, are right here in this jar.”  Like works of art she would place the mason jars in the sill of the kitchen window, on display.

After two weeks of our lives without granny, Cindy and Linda went home to Jacksonville.  Soon after, Granpa showed up with is mules pulling the wagon behind.  He was coming to town to get supplies.  Granny told him to get a case of mason jars and for him to tell us boys to pick her some dandelions.

Hearing this my brothers and grabbed a bushel basket and started to head on across the street.  Aunt Lena hollered at us, “You boys listen here, there’s a lot more blooms in the field beside the house.”  I often wondered if Granny could taste the goat pee or just figured it was the iron in the water.

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Bringing my thoughts back to the present, after glancing up at the night sky, I thought to myself, “That storms getting closer.”  Judging by the color of the sky and the frequency of the lightning strikes, those folks in Fernadina must really “be getting hammered.”