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Colonel Sanders

I guess I’ve met more than my share of famous people.  Most of them by accident.  Bob Hope, Zsa Zsa, Anita Bryant, Sandra Dee, stars from the USO shows  when I was a kid in Cuba.  There have been a lot more since then.  I can’t explain it.  It just seems to happen.  I’m pretty sure none of them have ever written a story about meeting me,  but I have written many stories about them.

My brother Gary and I worked for Carolina Tool for about 10 years.  We crisscrossed  the United States many times.  Most of the time, selling tools on the road meant flying home on Friday and returning on Mondays.  In ’78 or ’79 leaving Jax to fly to Dallas, Delta had me going through Atlanta to Chicago, then on to Dallas.  In Chicago, I had a layover, then I got bumped when my flight was over booked.  My seat on the next flight was upgraded to first class.

I spent some time in the lounge while I was waiting, low and behold I noticed Colonel Sanders of KFC fame, shaking hands, buying drinks and signing autographs in the lounge near the loading gate.  I don’t know if he noticed me, but I was wearing western wear, with a Stetson.  I’m pretty sure I stood out in a Chicago bar.  Boarding the plane I was assigned an aisle seat and was just getting comfortable when the Colonel, yes Harland Sanders himself, tapped me on the shoulder, introduced himself and asked if he could trade his window seat for my aisle seat.

You could have knocked me over with a feather.  Wanting to be accommodating to this dapper old man dressed in his famous white suit I said, “Sure.”  He said, “Good, I’ll buy us a drink when we get airborne”.  This little man was a gangster, sure nuff.  My first time flying First Class, I didn’t know that drinks were free.  No charge.

The flight attendant came by with a tray full of miniatures, cups of ice and sodas.  The Colonel asked me if he could place his briefcase in my lap for a minute.  Without waiting for my reply he then turned to the stewardess and asked her how much were the drinks.  She told him,”Oh no, you’re in first class, there will be no charge.”  He said, “Oh good, in that case, I’ll take all of them,” then he raised the lid on the briefcase and raked all of the miniatures into his briefcase and shut the lid.  The stewardess almost had a fit.  She was saying, “Hey, you can’t take all of them.”  He said, “Lady, you just said they was free, now is there someone else I need to talk to?”  She calmed down, walked off and left us alone for awhile.

There were a variety of different liquors, bourbons, scotch, vodka, etc. He and I started pouring all of the Ancient Age into his cane, once we unscrewed the handle.  It took about 10 or so of them to fill it up.  We started drinking the rest of the bourbons, straight out of the bottle.  He would take his cup of ice, chew it up and spit pieces of ice through a straw.  Small shards of ice would come out and hit someone in front of us in the back of the neck, then he would turn and look away nonchalantly, like nothing had happened.  Annoyed passengers would turn their heads and look at me, like I was the one responsible.  I just shrugged my shoulders.

Once we were in flight, he started telling me his life’s story.  Wow it was amazing. He told me that he always liked to cook, but he had spent some time working on the railroad, he had operated a tug boat and ran a ferry on the Ohio River.  He said he had owned several Gas Stations.  Once he said, he was arrested for attempted murder when he shot a competitor that had killed his business partner.

Amazed, I asked him if he was a real Colonel?  Business like, told me that two different Governors from the State of Kentucky had officially declared him a Colonel.  He told me that since he sold his business he just traveled the world opening up new stores and acting as a worldwide ambassador of goodwill.  Then he dropped back into character, telling me his life’s story, that he and his wife, Claudia I think it was, had hit on the idea of quick frying chicken, using a special recipe, that he had developed over the years, with a new fangled pressure cooker.  They would load up the back of the family station wagon, an old Ford Country Squire with the wood grain peeling off of the sides, with pens full of chickens and travel as far as they could away from Kentucky, to sell franchises.

He told me that the further he got from Kentucky, that the easier it was to sell, using his accent and attire. He would go in and make his pitch to the owner at restaurants, while Claudia was gutting the chicken and prepared the batter.

He sold his first franchise in Utah, for $2,500 plus 5 cents for every chicken they sold.   He told me that recently he had sold his business and had given away most of the money to people that need it worse than he did. (He eventually sold over 600 franchises before he sold out).

The stewardess came back with some friends, they took turns sitting on his lap and taking pictures.  He seemed to really enjoy this, he turned to me and asked if he could use my lap for his briefcase again, then he raised the lid and shuffled around, there amongst the clutter was a batch of loose hundred dollar bills.  He took out a couple and started signing his name.  It looked like he was gonna give these beautiful women his autograph on $100 dollar bills.

After he signed the bills he tore them in two and gave each of the women half of a hundred dollar bill.  Then he told them, I’ll be staying at the Greater Metro-Plex in in Arlington, right by Six Flags.  If you let me take you out to dinner, I’ll give you the other half.

When the girls told him that they couldn’t because they had a layover in Phoenix, he told them that would work out just fine, because he would be in Phoenix on Friday.  He said that he would be staying at the Holiday Inn by the airport.  If he wasn’t in his room just go by the lounge, if he wasn’t there, just ask for Penny.  Penny was an ex-Playboy Bunny that ran the bar.  The stewardesses just laughed, gave him their promise that they would try to drop by and see him then they left us alone for a while

He watched the girls as they walked up the aisle tending to other passengers, then turned to me and said, “Uh, where was I?”  “Oh yeah, Now, I have a secretary that goes ahead of me, booking my flights and making hotel reservations and scheduling events for me to attend.  I’ll be in Paris next week, then Frankfurt.  Last week I was in Singapore, Sidney and Hong Kong.  I’ve even been to Rome and have played poker with the Pope.”  I told him that was amazing and asked, “You’ve played poker with the Pope?”  He said, “Sure did, just who do you think, that I got all of those bogus hundred dollar bills from?”

When we arrived in Dallas, we were comrades, both of us were really tipsy.  I walked along side of him, arm in arm to keep him (us) steady.  We rode down the escalator, heading for baggage claims.  At the bottom of the escalator were a group of bald Hari Krishna looking dudes, dressed in pastel colored silk robes (light blue, pale orange and see thru yellow), banging tamborines and chanting, they had bells around their wrists and ankles.

One guy, the head monk or something, was standing in front, greeting people as they got off of the escalator.  He was handing out Krishna magazines.  The people would give him money, then he would turn to a big guy behind him holding a huge stack of magazines and get another magazine, then prepare to greet the next person.  A couple guys were holding long poles, burning incense overhead.

He welcomed the Colonel, handing him a magazine and asked him, “Did you enjoy your flight.  Would you be interested in reading about our culture?”  The Colonel’s eyes lit up and he said, “I don’t know, how much are they?”  The Hari Krishna dude said, “Oh, they are no charge, we only ask that you make a donation to our cause.”

I’m thinking oh, oh, here we go again.  The Colonel said, “Well, if they are free, I’ll take all of them.”  He reached over to the big dude, took the whole stack of magazines from his hands then handed them to me to carry for him.  Then we continued on towards Baggage Claims.

The head Krishna dude tried to take them back, he said, “No, wait you have to make a donation first.”  The whole group of Krishnas broke bad on us then, surrounding us like ninja warriors, screeching and hollering.

I was about to drop the magazines and take on the big dude, the Colonel reached over and touched my arm and said, “Son, let me pluck this chicken.”  Turning to the leader he said, “Is there someone that I need to talk to?”  Just then a group of uniformed airport police came up in a hurry with their batons out and ready for action.

Trying to explain the situation to the sergeant, the Colonel told him, “This guy tells me, that these magazines are free, so I take a couple, the next thing I know, he tells me that I have to give him some money.”

The top cop looked down at the Colonel, jerked his head around and said, “Alright, that’s it, I’ve had it with you guys.  I told you that you couldn’t harass the passengers for money, I’m running you in.”

From out of nowhere, 10 uniformed cops appeared.  They handcuffed the whole group of Krishnas and took them away, down the runway.  I can still hear the bells around their feet and ankles jangling as they walked and skipped away.

The cops had a hold of their cuffed wrists, holding them up high, so as to make them do the ‘perp walk’ on their toes, making a jingling noise as they went.  A few years later, I heard that the Colonel had died.  He had Leukemia, I didn’t know, he never said a word about it.  Before we parted, he shook my hand, grabbed my elbow with his left hand and asked me to call him Harland, but to save my soul, I wouldn’t dream of calling him by any other name than the “Colonel.”

Surfin’ USA

A pretty day like this, oh boy.  I can’t stay home.  Let’s go to the beach.

Everybody’s gone surfing.  It seems like I’m missing something in my life these days.  There was a time when I tried to plan my nights just so that I could be near the beach when the sun came up.

Waiting for the sun to rise and grape surfboard wax for breakfast,  kinda chewy, great flavor but it sure was yucky going down.

Oh to be the first one in the water every morning.  Kinda scary at first, thinking about sharks and what ever mysteries lie beneath the cold dark waters.  Seeing the sun break over the horizon chased my fears away as I turned to look for my brother, not far behind.

Safety in numbers is what they say.  At least it made you feel more at ease to see some one else just as foolish as you are, out there taking big chances just for a cheap thrill.

Heck, it was no big deal if you didn’t catch that first wave, there will be another along any minute.  Just watch the sets, coming in groups of three or more.  The larger swells catching my attention, watching the wind hold them up for a second as they broke into a large crest.

The onlookers would gather on the beach, filling in the vacant spots as they lined there cars up facing the surf.  Time to put on a show.  The glassy waves, like a marching band kept coming one row after another.  Tiny droplets of salt water, turning to mist on the fringe of the breaking waves.

This was the life.  My first board was an eight foot, 10 inch Glory.  It wasn’t long before I bought a 7 foot Silver Bullet.  When the twin fins came out, I got a five foot, 10 inch Hobie.  I bought my brother a five foot Califano.

The North Jetties and Jacksonville Beach didn’t always have the best breaking waves.  We heard that you had to go down to Cocoa Beach to be part of the real beach action.  Seeing our acquaintances from the North Jetties didn’t benefit us much, they acted as if they were ashamed to be seen with us.  We stopped at Ron Jon’s Surf Shop for a T shirt, a couple bars of  board wax and a window stickers for souvenirs.  That was all we could afford.

The Pier, the pier.  Everyone said you had to shoot the pier at Cocoa Beach.  They didn’t say anything about the hundreds of local surfers with attitudes there ahead of you or the barnacles growing on the multiple pilings holding up the pier.  Our first attempts were amateurish at best, but after watching the locals time their approach with the incoming waves, we got the hang of it.  How cool was this.

A hundred miles might seem like a long ways off just to go catch a wave. No step for a stepper.  Then we heard on the radio about the Red Tide they were having Tampa.  Red Tide?  We lived near the ocean our whole life.  We ain’t never seen no red tide before.  It sounded like fun and adventure, we were off.  Drove all night so we could be the first ones on the beach.

When we got there, we found out that the red tide was algae floating in the water killing the fish.  We never saw a single wave.  So much for surfing the west coast of Florida.

Dad had an old Corvair van that he let us use to go to the beach.  It was our first surfing buggy.  You could sleep inside, out of the cold.  Never did figure out just how all those sand gnats found their way inside.  We carried an old tire or two with us for a bonfire.  Set ablaze, they were good to chase off the screaming mee-mees.

The guys in the other groups didn’t really hang out with us much.  The ones with the high dollar boards,  wet suits, name brand swim suits and mom and daddy’s credit card.  We would flatter ourselves and tell each other that we were just as good.  Some times if they needed something like helping them push their van out of the sand, they would let us hang out around the bon fire.  That’s how we heard about Cape Hatteras, in North Carolina.

Soon we were drooling at the mouth every time some one mentioned the Outer Banks.  Visions of glassy six foot waves crashing near the beach filled our heads.  It wasn’t long after we heard  guys from the other surfer groups talking about a hurricane hundreds of miles off in the Atlantic, that we started making plans to go join them.

My brother and I mowed yards, collected drink bottles, dug fishing worms for sale and even done some babysitting, just so we could raise the money for an epic surfing trip.  It wasn’t long before we were ready and set off on our trip.  I took the money my granny gave me for my class ring.

Dad believed our story about needing the van to go camping for a few days.  We got a Rand McNally, loaded up some blankets and a sack of apples, then we took off for our wet and wild adventure.

We arrived in Cape Hatteras about midnight.  I can remember listening to the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean on the eight track all the way there.  We were pumped up.  Driving across the causeway to the Outer Banks we thought we recognized a couple sporty looking vans from Jax. that belonged to some of our so called friends.

Their vans were parked in front of a condo, facing the ocean.  We were so excited just to be there, that we couldn’t decide what to do first, cruise the beach and check out the waves or go knock on some doors to find our friends.

Our decision was made for us when we saw a couple of familiar faces in the parking lot near the condos.  They soon let us know that there wasn’t any room for us to stay with them.  At first we were welcomed with open arms.  When we told them we didn’t have any pot, they said they were over crowded.  That didn’t make us or break us.  We were there to surf and that’s what we did.

Local yokels didn’t create much of a problem, they were nice and friendly.  No, the worst thing we faced that day was the strong undertow.  It seemed that most of the license plates we saw, were like us, from out of state.  We just parked as close as we could to where all the other vehicles were gathered, in front of the waves breaking the best.

Wide eyed, we were scared at the size of the waves at first, they were at least 6 feet.  We just shrugged our shoulders, deciding that we didn’t come all this way just to watch.  It wasn’t long before we were right in there in the middle them.  The other guys made way for us, reluctantly at first but we caught our share of waves and wipe outs creating our own space.  As the morning wore on we tired, getting hungry, thinking about that bag of apples back in the van.

The other vehicles that had parked near the van had vanished. Our old yellow and green van sticking out from the landscape like a sore thumb.  There was nothing surrounding the old Corvair but a few small sand dunes.  Approaching from the rear we noticed that the back door was ajar.

I didn’t bother to lock the van.  We didn’t have much to steal and the van was in plain sight of the ocean.  If only we had been smart enough to keep an eye on it.  Looking inside the van I saw three dudes sprawled out asleep. Apple cores laying everywhere.  Two of the guys were our friends from Jacksonville.  They had taken my 8 track out of the dash and found our stash of Acapulco Gold.  It wasn’t much, we were saving it to smoke at the August Jam in Charlotte on the way home.

Jimmy Powell was a runt. A little guy.  He could stand on a surfboard floating in flat water.  He was passed out.  His two companions were in about the same condition.  It looked like they were gonna steal my tape deck and found the pot.  They must have smoked the joint we had rolled up, ate most of our apples and passed out.  Jimmy awoke with a start, trying to flee but we stopped him.  I was ready to clean his clock but he was so much smaller than me that I couldn’t hit him.  I had a handful of ponytail twisted in my grip and wasn’t letting go.

He said, “Hey, you guys wanna take a shower? C’mon let’s go to my place and you can shower up there.”  Aw, we weren’t mad, just tired. I still had my tape player and most of the pot.  A shower right now would sure hit the spot.  It was kinda like beating up your best friend’s little brother, no joy in that.

After a long overdue shower and a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Gary and I got back in our van and started cruising up and down the beach looking for beach bunnies.

We had made it to Hatteras, surfed with the best, caught plenty of waves.  We decided that we didn’t need those guys after all.  We had two tickets to the August Jam the next day, a half a bucket of fried chicken, a couple of fresh apples and about a dime sack of Acapulco Gold.

It’s been 40 years since I surfed. Yeah, I miss the action, the thrill of catching an enormous wave and riding it out.  There are worse things than having tanned skin and sun bleached hair.  The things I don’t miss though are my surfing buddies, the sand gnats, getting stuck in the sand and eating a bar of grape wax for breakfast.  If any one runs into Jimmy Powell, tell him I still owe him.

Write on Time

Donaldo at the Gate (B)

I start this story with tongue in cheek, as if my dreams would allow me to do so, differently.

Charlemagne the Great  united most of Europe in the late 700’s under the banner of Christianity.  He conquered Europe and then freed the Iberian peninsula, establishing the Carolingian Dynasty.  He defeated the Muslims and drove the Saracens out of Spain,  back into the African continent.  He united the Christian faith.  His efforts were rewarded by Pope Leo III when he was crowned Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.

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Charles Martel, also known as “Charles the Hammer was Charlemagne’s father started seizing power in the early 700’s.  Establishing  the Carolingian Dynasty.  Expanding the empire under the cloak of Christianity and the rule of law.

At that time in France, there were two factions.  The “Doons” side of the nobility wanted to be close enough to Charlemagne to keep a watchful eye, to share in the benefits and to take advantage of his mistakes.  They probably should have been the rightful rulers of France but their petty jealousy and conniving ways deprived them of the chance.  The other faction  of nobles supported the great emperor through thick and thin, without a shade of doubt, with no thoughts of selfish gain but filled with self-sacrifice.

Nobility and chivalry controlled the wave of popularism throughout the kingdom.  The jealous factions of the nobility wanted to be close to Charlemagne in able to seize power should the opportunity arise.  He gave them fiefdoms to insure their support.  He kept them close to him to control their selfish behaviors.

From the other faction, the most loyal and trustworthy of his knights, the great Charlemagne bestowed titles and privileges to show his appreciation.  He placed these men in key positions around his kingdom to safeguard his position.  One of these knights was his nephew, Roland or Rolando.   Known for his great strength, stubbornness and sense of humor.  As prefect to Breton, his job was to protect the border.

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Charlemagne endured many campaigns, one to Zaragoza the last city in Spain that  under Muslim conquest. The emperor and his troops surrounded the city, placed it under siege.  The Muslim King Marsile, not knowing when help would arrive from Africa sent emissaries to Charlemagne to seek a peaceful solution.  He promised to convert to Christianity and pay homage to the great king of France.  Charlemagne sought the counsel of his knights and agreed to the king’s terms.  He left Rolando who was know for his great strength and courage in charge of the rear guard, to protect his flank on the return trip through the narrow passes of the Great Pyrenees Mountains.

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Rolando was a devout supporter of his uncle, the king.  His bravery was unsurpassed and unquestioned.  He left his stepfather Count Ganelson as an ambassador to the Muslim king and took several Muslim hostages to ensure his safety.  This measure did not please Rolando’ vindictive stepfather.  He thought that he was being left behind as a sacrificial lamb.  Ganelson was part of the nobilty of France that wanted to see Charlemagne fail, so that they could take advantage of his demise and seize territory.

Count Ganelson conceived a plan of treachery.  He knew of a weak spot in the trail through the mountains and he shared it with the Muslim King.   King Marsile feeling remorse from his treaty with Charlemagne, had received word that reinforcements from the Africa continent would soon arrive.  He agreed to the step father’s plan and set out to harass the vanguard of Charlemagne’s troops, led by Charlemagne’s protector, Rolando.

There were several narrow passes in Basque territory on the return route to France, weaving through the Pyrenees that allowed only single file progression.  The stepfather knew of these passes and there, he concentrated the Muslim kings’ forces to harass and destroy his countrymen.

One such place was a long narrow bridge at Roncevauex Pass.  When I squench my eyes and look into the sun, I can see this place.  Built of stone, now crumbling with age, it was only wide enough in places to allow single passage.  High in the mountains, this bridge spanned a deep gorge.  This is the spot where Rolando chose to defend the king with his life and honor.

Rolando was accompanied by his best friend Oliver, a regal knight in his own right, best known for his intelligence as well as valor.  In some cases Oliver would duel with Rolando to prove his point and to show his own strengths.  Oliver often gave counsel of sound reasoning to Rolando, who on this occasion chose not to listen.

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Rolando was in possession of three great icons of immortality.  His great war horse Bayard, said to have been given to him by a magician, could understand human speech, could break rocks with his mighty hooves and said to have been able to adapt his size to any weight he had to carry.………, his mighty sword, “Durendal,” given to him by Charlemagne himself, legend to be the strongest and sharpest blade in the world…, and Oliphant, his legendary horn was made from elephant tusks..

During the fight, known historically as “The Battle of Roncevaux Pass,” Oliver kept trying to persuade Rolando to blow the great horn to summon Charlemagne’s troops to their rescue.  Believing in his own strength and capabilities, Rolando stubbornly refused.  To call for help in the middle of battle, was to him an act of cowardice.  He chose the site of the bridge to make his stand, allowing the last of his troops to pass. He dropped the visor on the helmet of his armor as he turned to face his enemies then lowered his lance.  Standing guard to protect the pass from the invaders.

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The first conflicts started in the late morning, as the sun was rising up the mountain slopes.  One by one the Muslim warriors were slain, yet they kept coming still, even as the sun rose high in the sky.  The dead and dying began to pile up on the bridge, so high that they couldn’t be by passed or climbed over.  Their bodies were thrown over the sides of the bridge to create room for further passage.

The great knight Rolando kept using his lance and legendary sword to maintain his position throughout the day, even as the numbers of the dead rose to a hundred or more.  Oliver with a sense of urgency kept pleading between breaths with Rolando’s vanity to use his great horn  “Oliphant,” to summon help before all was lost.

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Rolando tiring in the afternoon sun, finally gave in and used his famous horn made from the tusk of an elephant.  The great horn could be heard reverberating throughout the mountains and valleys for miles and miles.  It is said that he blew his horn so loud that his temples burst.  Rolando’s heroics gave his troops time to reach safer positions where they could defend themselves until reinforcements arrived, but the sound of the horn also gave urgency to the efforts of the Muslim troops.   Their huge numbers finally overcame the Emperor’s vanguard as the sun was setting in the west.

How many Muslims were slain by Rolando in the Battle of Ronceveaux Pass is still argued to this day.  Some say hundreds, while others say thousands, or more.  When helped finally arrived, Rolando’s body was riddled with wounds, his armor smashed.  It is said that before he died, he threw his great sword over the side of the bridge and into the gorge.  Where it is reported to be to this day,  on the side of the ravine, stuck in stone.

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When Charlemagne and his troops finally arrived they routed the Muslim troops, chased them back to Zaragoza, where he again laid siege.  This time he defeated the king and his reinforcements, taking Rolando’s stepfather prisoner, returning him to France to face trial.

Back in France, Rolando’s Count Ganelson pled his case not as treason but as an act of revenge. There he was surrounded by the prestige of his own royal family, but to no avail.  He was found guilty of treason as charged.  Under Charlemagne’s order’s his limbs were attached to four horses and pulled apart, each horse driven in different directions throughout the kingdom as a warning to others.

The Muslims had been occupying the Iberian peninsula since the fall of the Roman Empire, about 300 years.  The people of Spain, originally were the Visgoths.  Blonde and blue eyed.  The last Visigoth Queen married a Muslim King and after several centuries of Moorish occupation and breeding with the Saracens, their offspring became dark skinned and brown eyed, to this day they share the same DNA as their Moorish suppressors.

In my dreams, I can see Rolando in his suit of armor fending off one attacker after another.  His face though is the face of our great president, Donald Trump.  Who also followed in his father’s footsteps.  It is no great stretch of the imagination to compare the two.  Donaldo as our president is fighting the Muslim invaders yet and their cousins, their Hispanic offspring from their attempts to take over our country.

Donald Trump is the prefect of our American borders, guarding against invasion by the Muslims and their cousins the Hispanics from Central America.  He listens to advice from his friend Oliver Stone, but his strength is holding his own counsel.  He fights back.  “Quid pro quo.”  Why trade a Roland for an Oliver?”

He’s got our back.  He is defending Christianity.   He is riding his mighty steed; yes his popularity with the American people is his Bayard.  His mighty sword Durendal, is our Constitution and his Oliphant is twitter and he blows his own horn.  Let’s hope that our great Constitution doesn’t get thrown off the cliff.  We have Donaldo at the Gate.

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Plato, Socrates and Marcus Aurelius.

As a kid growing up in Guantanamo, I always wanted to be a baseball player when I grew up.  My brother, my friends and I played baseball all year round.  The equipment we used were the cast offs the grown ups discarded.  In those days, on the naval base, the only sporting goods shop, just sold golf equipment and tennis racquets.

I still aspired to be a ball player when we moved back to the states in ’64.  My goals hadn’t changed, but the neighborhood we lived in was rural.  Organized baseball for kids was in the distant future.  I walked around with an old glove, tossing the ball in the air.  I would go to a cow pasture and toss a baseball in the air and see how far I could slug it, chase it down, then toss in the air again and hit back.

I started the 7th grade at Paxon Jr. in ’65.  That’s when my goals started to change.  I listened to the Beach Boys on the Radio and Jan and Dean.  “Let’s go surfing now, everybody’s surfing now, com’n and go with me.”  The surf and the beach were just as distant as the ball diamonds in my far off dreams but the radio was just on the outer side of my ear.  For my 13th birthday, My Aunt Alice bought tickets for her daughters and I to go see the Beach Boys in concert at the coliseum.  That was my initiation into the real world.

The fashion craze at school was to wear “Surf Shirts.”  The stores didn’t really carry them, it was just a fad.  If I wanted to wear a surf shirt, I needed to get someone to make me one.  I did buy one from a friend at school then took it to my granny, who after some prodding agreed to try to sew one together for me.  Soon, I had 4 or 5 shirts.  Being cool at school wasn’t all that easy, but I did my best.

At 14, the beach was still a fair distance and I was years away from a drivers license.  I wore my bangs down across my eyes in an attempt to emulate my idols, the Beach Boys.  I made my own surf skate.  Later, they started calling them skateboards.  It was a crude contraption but I didn’t care.  I ruined a pair of skates to build it, driving nails half way into a two by six and then bending them over to hold the skate in place.   Every where I went I carried my skate board with me.  I was either on it or had it under my arm.

When I turned 15, with the help of a restricted license, I was driving.  I bought an 8 track and several tapes of the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean.  I made several trips to Jacksonville Beach where you could rent a motorcycle or a surfboard.  During warm weather I would skip school on Fridays with my friends.  We would ride the city bus to the beach, spend the day having a great time and wonder on the way home how we were going to explain our sunburns to our parents.

My surfing skills mostly consisted of paddling around on one of the huge surfboards that were available at the rental store.  The waves weren’t that big, so most of the time I spent paddling out past the breakers, then swimming back to the beach to retrieve my board when I fell off the side.

One day near the house I was swimming in the creek.  I tried a back flip out of the top of a tree over hanging the water.  When I jumped backwards, the branch sprung up and punched me in the back.  The pain was so intense that I almost blacked out.  The current was pushing me upstream with the tide, agonizing I grabbed a rope hanging from the tree and held on while my brother Gary went to get help.  It seemed like forever but he came back with my Dad and his friend.  They waded into the water to rescue me.

I was paralyzed from the middle of my back down.  I could move my upper body but not my legs.  The navy Hospital took some Xrays and told my Dad that it may not be permanent.  Time will tell.

Recuperating, I spent the summer on the front porch laying in a lounge chair, reading all the books my Dad could carry.  To escape my misery, Dad started bring some books home from the library at Cecil Field.  I  dove completely into the books Dad brought home.  These were books that interested him when he was a kid. Three to five hundred pages a day.  Most of the books were either about adventure or baseball players and their biographies.  People like Ty Cobb, Jim Thorpe, Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Phil Rizzuto and the Mick.  I guess my Dad’s thinking was to get me motivated enough to get out of that chair.  It worked.  It took me about 3 months on the sly, to get to where I could walk baby steps.

Supposedly, to fill in a low spot, in front of the house, Dad ordered a load of sand.  Right where I could see it.  When he came home from work, he would stand in the middle of the pile and start spreading dirt.  Tossing it left and right. He was tossing  sand in low spots of the yard.  Dad smoked a lot, so after 30 minutes he was done, but he would leave the shovel leaning up against the house, just out of reach from my chair.

The next day, while Dad was at work, I started my own therapy sessions.  I would reach and crawl to the shovel, pull myself up into a standing position.  Using the shovel to lean on, I would twist my body left and right, making baby steps.  Back and forth until I got to the pile of sand.  Once I got to the sand I used my arms and the shovel to pile sand around my feet so that I wouldn’t fall.  Then I started spreading the sand, one small shovel full at a time.  Left and right.

I made sure that I returned to my seat in the lounge chair before dad got home.  It was agonizing, both the shoveling and the trips back and forth.  You know what they say, “No pain, no gain.”  Each day was slightly easier than the last.

The day before school was supposed to start back up for the new year, I had a piece of a stride.  Not much of one, but I could make baby steps.  Five or six together before I had to brace myself.  After reading those sports biographies all summer, I wanted to play football.  Jim Thorpe won the Olympics in a pair of shoes he found in the trash.  In normal conditions, I think I would have made the team and been a pretty good player.  In my present condition, to most people it would have been a joke.

I made it through the school days, in between periods, changing classes early.  Leaning on lockers for moral support.  I was determined that I was going to be back to normal.  I was in a hurry and was too impatient for Mother Nature to take it’s course.

Have you ever heard the expression, “Suck it up?”  That’s just what I did.  I didn’t mention football to my Dad.  He would have squashed that idea.  I didn’t tell the coach about my back.  Fearful that he would send me home if I told him about my back.  Plus, I wasn’t looking for sympathy, I just wanted a chance to make the team.  I just got in line with everybody else and tried to do the things I was told to do.  He put us through the paces.  Before my injury, I was probably one the fastest runners in school.  Just knowing that gave me a sense of pride.  I didn’t want to be beat.  Sure I hurt, I hurt like hell.  Funny thing about pain is, your ego can overcome it.  After while pain becomes an old friend.   Remember Glen Cunningham?  The first man to break the four minute mile.  He burned three of his toes on his left foot in a house fire.  Trying too hide the fact that I could barely walk I hid in the crowd.  When the coach blew the whistle and told us to line up for wind sprints though, I got up front.  No matter what it took or how much I hurt, I wouldn’t let anyone get in front of me. I don’t want to remember how much it hurt.  All I could think about was left, right, left right.  I did my best to match every challenger step for step.  If someone surged past me, it was only for a step or two. After a hundred yards we would get  a 60 second breather then the coach would blow his whistle and tell us to line up again.  It was murder, pure murder.  Still the guys that were trying to beat me could tell I was hurting and figured they would take me this time.  It never happened.

After the wind sprints, were the “Jericho Rolls.”  A group of guys would stand in a circle, when the coach blew his whistle we would get in a prone position and dive over the guy next to us, while he rolled under.  More agony.  The pain was so intense.  I kept telling myself I was stupid but I didn’t want to see any smirks on the faces of my competitors, even if I was clumsy and slow.  The coach kept telling me to get with it.  I don’t think I looked that athletic at the time.  I needed a minute to be able to regain my feet.

I guess one of my motivating factors is the coach had just married my English teacher.  The one that kept telling me that I had promise as a writer, to stay with it, to apply myself.  I had a teenage crush on my teacher and she showed me favor.  Now this son of bitch was her husband and he made me pay dearly.  The drills helped me though in the long run.  The muscles in my back seemed to respond to the rigorous training, painful as it was.

My Dad had been transferred to Viet Nam for a year.  It was just me and my brothers to help Mom with our trailer park.  My goal was to make the team.  When the coach posted the names of the guys that had made the grade, my name was on the list.  The last one.  I did it, the try outs were the longest two weeks of my young life.  I was still hurting, having problems moving my lower body without pain but I was able to carry myself so that if you didn’t know, it didn’t show.  My Mom was in an accident soon after.  Taking care of Mom, meant, no football. If the truth be known, I was happy just to make the team.

Dad must have known what he was doing when he ordered that load of sand.  I bet he carefully selected every book he brought home from the library.  Dizzy Dean, couldn’t read or write.  His grammar was terrible yet he made a second career out broadcasting, after his pitching days were over.

Baseball wasn’t in the cards for me, ever.  Too short and injury prone, I’m no Pee Wee Reese.  Surfing didn’t show up on my horizons either.  The closest I got to Corky Carrol was watching his Dad, James Arness on TV.  No man, I was duck footed.  Not overly fond of shoveling dirt, what I remember most about my convalescing period is what I gleaned from those books.  When Dad started bringing home biographies of Plato, Socrates and Marcus Aurelius, I knew it was time to let him know that I was gonna be alright.  If I ever see Ms. Starnes again, I just want to let her know that I am still trying to apply myself.

 

 

Kittykism 666

No, I don’t know where to start and I be damn if I know where this will end.  Let me write down what I can remember before I forget.

After a hard day’s work, I lay down to take a snooze.  We were at her Mom and Daddy’s house.  I guess I should say her Daddy’s house.  They wanted us all to live there.  Me, Kay, her kids and her two brothers.

I had my own house.  It was good enough for me but I didn’t have the giant screen TV, the microwave oven or the extra large living room.  Bowing in to pressure from her Dad, we spent more time there than we did at my house.

This wasn’t my first time around.  We had been married and divorced twice. A glutton for punishment is what I am, I guess.

Her argument to me was that her Daddy was getting old.  She wanted to be there for him and reminisce about the good old days.  Only now instead of sitting in daddy’s lap, she sat in the recliner next to him.

Did I say getting old?  It seems like every time he started having health problems he would go to the hospice or nursing home for a brief stay, then return home rejuvenated, looking years younger.

Dewitt had grown up around my Mom’s kin people in South Georgia.  He had been best man at my Aunt Alice’s wedding to Uncle John.  His sister Doris had been present when my Uncle Roy supposedly killed himself.  She was the only witness.

The first time we were married was a brief exercise in futility.  She wasn’t ready to leave home and didn’t want to endure the struggles of domestic life.  We divorced after six weeks.

Eleven years later, the spark was relit. More her doing than mine.  We tried it again.  After a year, basically the same results.  Even back then, she wanted to spend more time at her parents than she did with me.  It was like the Hotel California.  You could check out anytime you want but you can never leave.

Back to the present.  Her Daddy, Dewitt had just paid another visit to the nursing home.  He was back now, some what refreshed but still peaked.  I always thought it strange that even at his advanced age, he had a full head of salt and pepper colored hair and long bushy eyebrows.  At times, he could be an imposing figure.  I never knew what to expect from him.

As long as I went along with the family agenda and did as I was told, everything was alright.  He owned a contracting business.  I didn’t want to be involved but didn’t have much choice.  He needed someone he could trust and his sons weren’t that type.  One was lazy and one was as crooked as a dog’s hind leg.

Most work days started out very early, around 5 AM.  Today had been no different.  After 10 hours in the hot sun, doing my duty, making sure that the job site was left clean, the tools brought home and the trucks unloaded,  I was bushed.  No, the “bear” didn’t get me that day, but he tried.

I was exhausted,.  I needed this nap.  In the brief period between sleep and consciousness, I became aware that the house was full of people, mulling around.  Someone kept peeking through the door to see if I was still asleep.  That bothered me.  What in the hell did they want to bother me for?  I earned my nap.

I heard strange voices and through a crack in the curtains saw that the yard was full of vehicles.  I shook it off and tried to regain my slumber but to no avail.  I got up shaking my head trying to rid myself of the cobwebs.

As I entered the family room, I could see DeWitt being put on a gurney.  He was laughing and talking,  he even gave me a wave.  Some of the people looked like EMTs and some looked like family friends, yet there were others that I didn’t recognize.

My entrance seemed to garner attention.  I was aware of a group of people closing in on me, like they wanted to engage me in conversation or possibly to keep me from getting away.

The conversation started leaning towards me.  It was like I was being told what was expected from me, the things I had to do.  It was mandatory.  I wasn’t really given a choice.  They wanted me to give up my life to join theirs, without really telling me what theirs was all about.  Sight unseen.

Feeling a little uncomfortable I followed the gurney out of the room as Kay’s Daddy was put in an ambulance.  My followers didn’t leave me alone for a second.  They didn’t seem to hide the fact that I was trapped with no avenue for escape.  Casually I excuse myself back to the bedroom to change clothes.  When I did, I went to open the window for an exit.

A quick glance let me know they had expected me to do that.  I could see at least four men just outside the window, as if they were waiting for me.  Casually, I closed the window.  I wanted to lay back down.  Tired as I was, who could blame me.  I didn’t see Kay or her Mom but there were several women present that were guiding the efforts to coerce my involvement.

I reentered the large room, walking through the crowd as if there wasn’t anything amiss.  Before I could make it to the front door, I was accosted again.  This time by a friendly dark haired woman that seemed to know me.  She was friendly enough but the way she approached me, reminded me of a snake slithering up to its prey.

The dark haired woman who I’ll call Betty and I were joined by an older blond woman named Doris.  Doris was DeWitt’s sister.  The same one that witnessed my Uncle Roy’s death.  Feeling uncomfortable I tried to casually walk away, but that wasn’t going to happen.

There were at least two fairly large men behind me and a couple of more just outside our circle.  In my mind I started wondering what would be the best plan to get out of there.  I could hit one guy in the stomach or shove one guy into the other but that left at least 4 or 5 more that I couldn’t handle.

I decided to play along and be friendly.  “Hi, how are you?”  Just trying to lighten up the moment.  One of the guys next to me tried to be friendly.  I’ll call him Judas.  The other guy wanted to impress me that he was all muscle and an impenetrable force.

Aunt Doris was drinking a martini, with an olive and a toothpick sliding from side to side.  She set it down on the coffee table in front of me.  While Doris faced with me her fake smile, Betty came at me from the side and grabbed my arm and said, “C’mon, you don’t want to be difficult do you?”

I tried to turn away but there was Judas with his toothy smile, blocking the way.  While we were facing away from the others, Judas in a friendly way slipped me two pills.  One was gray and the other was white.  He told me that if my answer was yes to take the gray one and if it was no, take the other.

The answer to what, I wondered.  I didn’t have long to wait.  I was told by Aunt Doris that my religion had abandoned me, she added that religion was overrated anyway.  She wanted me to join their group and leave my old life behind.  It was a now or never proposition.  She said I would never want for anything, all I had to do was be a member of the group and do as I was told.

I laughed in her face and told her, ”That shouldn’t be too hard, that’s all I’ve been doing my whole life.”  Judas was still at my side, he said that if I agreed to be a part of the group, take the white pill,  If I didn’t, swallow the gray one.  The big guy was in front of me now.  I smiled at him and said, “Sure, no problem.”  Then I put the gray pill in my mouth, with my tongue I pushed it in the void where I had a tooth missing in the back of my mouth.  I opened my mouth to show that I swallowed it.  These seemed to ease the tensions somewhat.  Still there was enough electricity in the air to make the hairs on the back of my neck rise.

We left as a group in several cars, arriving shortly at the hospice where Kay’s Daddy had been admitted.  I say it was a hospice, it kinda looked like a nursing home.  Still surrounded by my body guards, we walked down the hall to Dewey’s room.  Wow, the room number was 666.  Now I get it, if there was any room for doubt before, there wasn’t now.

DeWitt was sitting up in bed, looking peaked.  I noticed that his bushy eyebrows seemed pointed upward on the ends in a way that I never noticed before.  He seemed glad to see me.  I felt like a sacrificial lamb or more like a goat tied to a stake during a lion hunt.  There was a tray of food on the table next to his bed.  I noticed that there was a small bowl of pudding.  Dewey saw my stare and said, “Go ahead and eat it, I’m not hungry.”

I grabbed the small bowl and put a spoonful of pudding to my mouth, as I was tasting the pudding, I spit the gray pill into the spoon and stirred the pudding as if I was mulling taking another bite.  I said, “This pudding doesn’t taste right to me, here taste it and see if it tastes strange to you.”  I gave the bowl of pudding to Judas and he eagerly devoured the contents, setting the bowl back on the table as he finished.  A few minutes later, after he set the bowl down, my new friend Judas started going berserk.  He frothed at the mouth, his face turned red and he bent over coughing.  I took advantage of the opportunity and grabbed him by the tie and swung him into the big man, still on my six.

During the melee, I stepped into the hallway.  There was an emergency exit door, less than 10 feet away.  I opened the door to freedom and heard the bells and whistles going off in my ear.  I could see that across the field from me was the real world.  Cars and trucks were just a 1,000 yards away.  In my younger days, I could make that run, no problem.  Now, I’m older and slower, smarter too.  I quickly thought that if I made the run, I wouldn’t be so far ahead of the pack that my escape was guaranteed and if I did get that far, what fool in his right mind would stop to help someone being chased from a nursing home.

I stopped and turned around laughing in their face.  Wait a minute, I’m in control here.  If I wasn’t, they would have already taken me out.  “I bet y’all thought I was gonna run didn’t you?  Well I’m not.”

Aunt Doris had another cocktail in her hand.  I took it from her pretending to take a sip and when I did, I put the white pill in the mix.  I threw the drink in her face and when I did, she started screaming, her face dissolving like the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz.  Her screams penetrated my consciousness.  I looked up with a start and realized I was still in bed sleeping back at the house.  Only this time I had two solid white kittens with blue eyes on either side of me.  I didn’t have any white kittens, where did these guys come from?

I woke with a start, thinking how lucky I was to escape that mess.  These kittens must be angels sent from God to protect me from my dreams.  That was a close one.  I wondered what would have happened if I had given in.  Was I suppose to be a soul for DeWitt to steal for prolong rejuvenation?

I reached over and gave the two kittens a head rub and said to myself, “I got to know.  I laid back down and turned the pillow over.  I told myself I’m going back.  I got to see the end of this and soon, nodded off to zzzzzleep.

Corona Stories, Day 45

Getting off the school bus, I knew something was wrong.  An EMT ambulance was parked at our front door.  It’s lights were flashing.

Oh no, I thought.  It’s Mom. Her time has come.

My Mom use to entertain herself and as always try to teach me my numbers. Add subtract, multiply, divide.  She would tell me that math was my friend, if I just learn how to use it.

Washing dishes as punishment for my misdeeds, she would take the time to supervise and go over my homework, while I did the dishes.  How much is 7 times 7? Or how many half’s does it take to make a whole.  That kind of stuff.

Her favorite pastime, was picking the dogs.  The greyhounds came to Jax in season.  Either at Orange Park or at the track on McDuff.  She had a system.  She didn’t always bet or go to the track but using her system, we would make picks almost everyday.

I would ride my bike from Dunn Ave. to Soutel.  Dean’s Open Air Market on Soutel and US 1, sold dog books.  Mom would give me two dollars.  I would buy her a dog book and spend the change on a strawberry Nehi or a couple of bananas, that were hanging on display.

When I got home with the dog book, she and I would get the sports page from the morning paper and the sport’s page from the Jacksonville Journal that came out about 3 o’clock.

Mom would tell me to write down notes as she graded the dogs. 1 through 8, each race.  Ten races all told.  First she would have me write down each dogs starting position, 1 through 8.  Then she would call out to me the favorite picks from the paper. 1st, 2nd and 3rd.

I would give each pick a mark.  The morning paper and the evening paper didn’t always match.  Sometimes the favorite in the dog book didn’t match either.  Then Mom would start reading the stats.  She would say stuff like, “This dog is a breaker, every race he’s run in, he either broke out of the box first or second, and he’s on the inside, coming out of box number two.  Give this dog a mark.”

Then she would look at their weight.  If it was a heavy dog on the inside, it got a mark.  The dogs with the fastest times in their previous races, also got a mark.  She would measure their fastest times to the track record, anything close, got a mark.

Heritage meant something too.  The dogs lineage would show up in the dog book.  If it was any kin to Big Jim Fallon, it always got a mark.  Big Jim held the track record at McDuff and Orange Park.

There were more ways to get a mark than I can remember but those are some of them.  At the end of it all, we would add up the marks.  The top three dogs with the highest marks were her picks.  Mom would write the numbers on the chalkboard in the kitchen. 1, 3, 5 or 2, 6, 8.  Not always but a lot of times, the sequence mattered to her.  She would pick a 1-3-5 or 1-8 because those numbers came in a lot.

A two dollar quinela ticket didn’t have to be in order to win.  That was a trifecta, they cost 3 dollars.  If she was sure of a certain dog, she would place a bet on that dog with every other dog in the race, a “wheel,” 16 dollars.

Mom wasn’t shy once she made her picks.  She only went to the track if she was positive she had a winner.  If she had that “feeling,” she would place multiple bets on the same combo.

She always had to be there for the first race and place as many bets on that race as she had money to buy.  If she came home early, it meant she guessed wrong.  If she was right though, she would  trade those tickets in on the Daily Double.  You had to have winners in both races tn order to win but the payoff was huge.  The same thing with the “Big Q.”

My Dad was stationed in Viet Nam. Mom, my brothers and I would run the trailer park, while he was gone.  Mom would scrimp and save, forgo new dresses and pretty outfits so that she could accumulate enough money to go to the track. The trailer park was a little run down place that had room for expansion.  It was my parents retirement dream.

One night Mom hit it big.  Her system finally perfected, paid off. She had tickets on the Daily Double and the Big Q. Her brother,  my Uncle Ray was with her. Mom said he never had money to play the dogs but liked the entertainment.  He would tell me years later about the 1-3-5 photo finish, the excitement and anticipation because it looked like a 1-5-3 from start to finish but at the end, it turned out to be a 1-3-5. A big winner and Mom had several winning tickets.  I don’t remember the exact amount she won, it was over twenty thousand dollars.  I can just imagine the exhilaration she felt after cashing in those tickets.

After the race, Mom took Uncle Ray home first.  On the way back to our house, she had a blowout, hit a culvert and flipped the car several times on Old Kings Road.  She was hurt really bad.  Broken ribs, broken ankle in three places, broken hip and knee.  Then came the bad news.

The doctors discovered in surgery that Mom was in the beginning stages of bone cancer.  In those days there wasn’t any real cure.  She had it so bad that they had to amputate her good leg, the one she didn’t break.  The shock and trauma to us was so great that my brothers and I didn’t find out that she won any money until she was ready to come home from the hospital a week later.

Mom didn’t let it break her spirit.  She was able to get around in a wheel chair.  She managed to get her hands on a small bullwhip, which she used to keep my brothers and I in line.  She didn’t really use it that much.  I can remember hearing her pop the whip and cackle like a hen that just laid an egg. Mom was something else.

She was in lots of pain, all the time.  Mrs. Boston a lady that lived in the neighborhood, was a nurse.She would come by our house a couple times a week and administer Mom’s morphine shots.  She would draw up extras and leave them in our fridge.  My job was to give Mom a shot of pain meds in the morning before I caught the bus to school and again when I got home at 4 o’clock.

On this day, after seeing the EMT ambulance at our front door, I thought the worse was at hand, but I was wrong.  My brothers and I had started sneaking some of Mom’s bourbon out from under the kitchen sink when we went camping. We would pour it in a “Listerene” bottle never thinking she would catch us.

We noticed that the Jim Beam bottle had crayon marks on the side of the bottle.  Thinking we were outsmarting her, we would pour Coca Cola back into the whiskey bottle to fill it back to it’s normal level.  No one ever told us that the Coke would go flat.  She caught on. Still, she didn’t know for sure it was us.  So she poured rat poison in the bottle.

Jimmy Sturgis was a tenant that worked for Perret’s Dairy. He lived in number 12 and sometimes did repairs for us.  Earlier that morning, Mom had stopped the sink up with bread and asked Jimmy if he could fix it.  Poor ole Jimmy.  While he was under the sink, taking advantage of the situation, he took a couple of swallows out of that Jim Beam bottle.  It didn’t take long before he went into convulsions.

What I saw when I approached our front door that day after getting off of the bus was the EMT’s rolling Jimmy out of the kitchen on a gurney.  I thought it was Mom, but no, here she came up behind them.  She was cackling and smiling, the bullwhip across her lap.  She had caught her booze rat.

Jimmy recovered.  Mom paid for his doctor bills thinking she had solved her mystery.  After that, we just snuck Mom’s vodka and left the bourbon alone.

Mom wanted to surprise Dad.  His deployment was going to be up pretty soon. She called Denson Electric. They put in 22 light poles with double electric boxes for 42 mobile homes.  The original trailer park only had 8 spaces.

All of that’s in the past now. The dog tracks are closed nowadays. Math comes easy to me now.  Mom made learning mathematical combinations fun.  When I think of her, I  like to imagine that she has two good legs in Heaven, sitting in the Clubhouse with a glass of Bourbon, waiting for Big Jim to jump first out of the box.  If I listen closely, I can almost hear the commentator over the speaker, “And they’re off, there goes Rusty.”

 

Reset

“I awoke last night to the sound of thunder.  How far off, I sat and wondered.”

Uh, Thanks Bob.  I think I’ve got it from here.

It must have been a real frog strangler. I awoke in the middle of the night.  I looked to my clock and it was blinking 12:00 over and over, like de jevu or something. A quick glance at my security monitor and it looked like I was under surveillance by an owl.

No going back to sleep now. I wondered if my computer was alright and got up to check it out.  Well, the screen came on but I wasn’t getting any response.  Wait, if the power was off, maybe I need to reset the date or something.  Isn’t that what you are supposed to do when the power goes off?  Still groggy, the only lights in the room were my blinking clock, the peering glare I was getting from the owl on the monitor and the bright light of the computer screen.

Okay, let’s see what happens.  How do I do this again.  My sons have showed me how a dozen times, maybe I can do this.  It’s either too late or too early to wake anybody up to show me how.

Bottom right corner, right? Let’s see.  Yep there it is, Reset the date and time.  I clicked the icon and waited and waited and waited.  I might have even dozed off waiting for the screen to tell me what to do.

Okay, the computer reset to April 9, 2002.  That’s my start date.  I need to advance it to the present to get my computer to work.  Okay, let’s give it a try.

It takes a little while for it to advance to the future,  May, June, July, come on, come on.  Finally a year has passed, keep going.  Still sleepy, I thought I heard someone tapping at my window.  I took my finger of the mouse, to look out the window.

My brother Gary use to do that, to wake me up early to go fishing.  Maybe I was still dreaming, I didn’t see anything or anybody in the dark.

I looked back to my screen, not fully aware of my actions, I clicked on the computer and the screen came on.  I checked the date, it was June 2003.  This can’t be right, I thought.  Let me check out my Facebook page.  There grinning at me through the screen was my brother Gary.  He was holding a nice size Snook.  I remember that day.  He caught the limit while I was still trying to untangle my backlash from my first cast.

Instinctively, I typed a comment to the post, “Yeah, I remember that day.  You talked me into cleaning your fish, while you drank beer and watched.”

I can’t tell you how surprised I was when I immediately got a responding reply, “Oh, you know how squeamish my stomach gets when I see fish guts.”

You could have knocked me over with a feather.  Gary passed away in November, 2006.  I was stupefied.  Uh, how is this happening. Why is this happening.  Just to be sure I sent him a reply, “Hey, was that you tapping at my window this morning.”

His response on the screen read, “Yes, we were supposed to go fishing.”

Trying to recollect back to June 2003, maybe we were supposed to go fishing.  I hit him back with, “The last time you and I went fishing, I spent 3 days in a Tallahassee jail for murder.”  (I know everyone remembers the Seminole Lake Murder Mystery.) We got caught up in that.  They let us go, eventually but not soon enough for me.

Inquisitively I asked him where he was and he sent back, “I don’t know for sure, but it’s dark.  I can see you though.”

Stranger things have happened to me, I gotta say but this was weird.

The next message read, “Hurry up.  C’mon we’re waiting for you.”

This is getting to be too much but I was curious now.  I messaged back, “Who is we?”  His reply was, “Bug and Duane, we’re ready to go.”

No, No, No.  This can’t be, they’re dead, passed on years ago.  I miss all of my brothers but here I am in front of the keyboard, messaging back and forth.  This can’t be real.

Then Gary’s next message was, “Bring some pot.”

Yep, that’s Gary alright.

I scrolled up and down on my screen to see what else was going on.  There were pictures of my kids, still young, smiling back at me.  My Dad,  standing on the dock behind his house.  Gee, I always liked that pic.  I wondered if I messaged my Dad, if I would get a response.  Too eerie for me, bad as I wanted to, I couldn’t.

I got to thinking that if I advanced the reset date a little further, I might could see or hear things again, that happened a little further down the line.

Gary’s Memorial Dec. 2006. Maybe I should skip that. I scrolled down some.  There were pictures of me and my boys at work at All Tell Stadium.  We were working for Wayne Weaver, owner of the Jaguars.  More pictures showed us building HabiJax houses off of Golfair. Gosh, my boys were too young back then to be doing a man’s work.

I wondered for a second, if I sent Mr. Wayne a friend request, would remember us?

Thinking about it for a minute, I must have dozed off again.  The sound of thunder brought me back.  There was that owl, still staring at me on the security monitor.  I had to hit the space bar for the computer screen to light back up.  The clock was still blinking, 12 o’clock.

I tried to scroll back to the time I was conversing with my brother but to no avail…..

“Ain’t it funny how the night moves.”

 

Nassau Nessy

Driving down Hecksher Drive, I noticed that the Jacksonville Zoo has a new addition on their sign.  Glory be, that brings back memories.  I’m trying to think….., just how many times I’ve wanted to tell this story.  I just told it to my wife again.  The first time was over 40 years ago.  She didn’t believe me then either.

Well, I am at the age now where I don’t care if any one believes me or not.  I’m here to tell it.

In the summer of ’67, all was not right with the world.  We were at war with Viet Nam.  Domestic protesters were plentiful.  My Dad was in the Navy at the time and served a tour in Viet Nam.  Leaving Mom, me and my two brothers to run the trailer park.

My Grandpa Sam, came to live with us and try to help us out with the chores.  Mom had recently been in an automobile accident.  She had one leg amputated.  Her future seemed bleak.   My Grandpa came down from Illinois to help us.  Grandpa was always a never do well.  He had his problems with alcohol most of his life.  He tried to fit in, knowing that he was needed, he did his best.

One late summer night Grandpa Sam wanted to take my brother Gary and I fishing.  I was 15 and Gary was two years younger.  Sure we wanted to go fishing.  We loaded up our gear and headed out to fish off one of the bridges on Hecksher Drive.

We tried Sister’s Creek and a couple more bridges but the tide was just beginning to turn and Grandpa wanted to get closer to the ocean.  We ended up by Alamaconte and fished off the bridge for a couple hours.  Grandpa caught a Croaker and he let the fish lie on the bridge next to us, flopping around.  Every time the fish would let out a croak, Grandpa would laugh and reach for a swallow of his beer.  He had brought a six pack with him and he nursed them throughout the night.

The fish didn’t seem to be biting though, it didn’t take long before we decided to move on, heading north to the Nassau Sound bridge.

Our luck seemed to change there.  We caught several Ladyfish, a couple drum and another Croaker.  Grandpa had never seen or heard Croaker’s before or maybe he just enjoyed their company.  He said it sounded like one of his ex-wives.

Gary and I got bored after a while, we walked off, searching for something to get into.  We were fishing at the crest of the bridge.  It wasn’t very tall.  We could see the toll booth in the distance, lighted up and deserted.

It was after midnight, so “Honest John” was working the toll booth.  The lights from the bridge cast eerie shadows, everything was kinda spooky.  We were walking towards the deserted toll booth, still a couple hundred feet away, when we noticed movement along the shore line.

We were amazed and kept silent, not wanting to announce our presence.  The scene in front of us went against what we were taught in school.  Near the beach, about a hundred yards away from us, by the shoreline, we saw a large neck sticking out above the surface.  The small head, shaped like a football on the end of about a 9 foot neck, was making it’s way to the shoreline.

If you’ve ever noticed the motion a swan or a duck makes while in the water, bobbing it’s head back and forth as it waddles along, then you can imagine what we saw.  When we first noticed this creature, it was just a few yards from the shoreline.  It made it’s way towards the sandy beach.

That’s it, it was out of the water.  Instead of legs and feet, it had flippers.  Almost like a walrus or a seal.  It was like watching a scene from a scary movie, the hair on the back on my neck was standing on end.

The both of us ran, as fast as we could, back to the top of the bridge to get Grandpa.  He was just finishing off his last can of Miller High Life.  We told him what we saw and he just chuckled.  The same way he did after hearing the “croakers.”  In disbelief, he walked with us to the base of the bridg

Mentally, I have replayed this scene many times since.  This sea creature was making it’s way back to the water’s edge.  Maybe she had just laid her eggs in the sand.  Slowly plodding along.  Grandpa saw what we saw.  An enormous creature making it’s way back into the water.  It was in no hurry.  We got a good view.  Once it reached deeper water, only the neck and head could be seen, it was slowly moving along with the tide, inland, away from the ocean.

My brother and I were excited, this thing had to be prehistoric.  It just had to be.  After we told everyone about it, we were gonna be famous.  Just think, something that is supposed to be extinct for millions of years was now practically in our back yard.

Grandpa wasn’t so sure. In fact he was downright flabbergasted.  He was at odds ends.  He told us that we couldn’t tell a soul.  No one.  This has to be our secret.  He explained to us the situation.  He was an old man that had been fishing with his grandsons and drinking beer, late at night.  No one would believe this preposterous tale.  He was pretty sure that he would get in trouble.

Gary and I looked at each other with disbelief.  What?  Keep it a secret, no way, this has to be told.  Grandpa kept on, telling us that he could get in trouble, he was driving and was in the company of underage minors after midnight.  He said that his reputation wasn’t sterling and he didn’t think any one would believe us any way.

So that’s the way it went, for a while anyway.  We kept our mouths shut.  I justified his decision as I got older.  Many years afterward, around 1975 I think it was, I was a father and had a family of my own.  I read in the Jacksonville Journal a story about a family that had been out in a boat fishing near the North Jetties.

The father and mother of the family reported seeing a creature that after they described it, sounded like the same thing my brother and I witnessed.  Can there be more than one, or is it the same creature that we saw 7 or 8 years before.  I read the remarks of the article, that people were laughing and pointing fingers at the folks that made the report.

The very next week, another group of fishermen said that they had seen the same thing.  This time the story was accompanied by a drawing of what looked to be the Loch Ness monster.  That was it, they’ve seen the same thing we did.

My wife stopped me when I wanted to call the Jacksonville Journal and tell them that I’ve seen it too.  She looked at me through the tops of her eyes and said, “Think about it.  The paper and the readers are making fun of these people.”  Come to find out, they had been drinking too and that was the highlight of the story.  Just a good natured ribbing.  The laugh of the whole city.

Bonnie didn’t want to see me put our family through the same thing.  I kept my story to myself.  Somehow though, I didn’t think this was the end of it.  I adopted a “wait and see attitude.”  Surely some one will see it again, maybe they will have a camera or more witnesses.

Almost 50 years later, I’m still waiting.  No one yet has come forward with a new story.  That I am aware of.  I keep wondering though it may be because they are like me and are waiting for collaboration.

Seeing the new sign at the zoo spurred me into action.  I am tired of waiting.  I am past the point of caring if any believes me or not.  It’s a story that needs to be told and it’s high time I get it done.

Maybe my Grandpa Sam knew what he was talking about.  Thinking back, I can still hear that Croaker while he was flopping around on the bridge.  I think he was laughing at us.

Preachers, Painters and Pipe Smokers.

There was just something about driving nails.  Maybe it’s the accuracy of hand to eye coordination.  Could be the good feel of the hammer in the grip of your hand when you sink that nail with a solid blow.  I just loved it.  I even liked the sawdust blowing in my face from the skillsaw.  I just hated the payola though.  It was terrible.

The summer after our second child was born, I needed to work.  The wolf was at the door.  The summer showers limited me to 22 to 26 hours a week.  At near minimum wage, it didn’t add up to much.

Towards the end of ’76, I spent a rained out day looking for a new job.  The Times-Union newspaper was my only job source.  Most of the jobs listed in the want ads were dead end jobs too or required more experience than I had, at anything.  I came upon an ad that read “WANTED 5 men to sell cars, $500.00 a week guaranteed.  No experience necessary.

I found my only tie in the closet and went 6211 Walgreens Utility Road to apply for a job, at  Crown Ford.  Bill Morgan was the used car manager.  He interviewed me.  He asked if I had any previous experience.  Bad as I needed the job, I didn’t lie.  I told him no. I’ve never sold anything, not even dope.  He surprised me when he said, “Great, that’s just what I want.  Someone I can train, that doesn’t know anything but what I tell them.

He was sitting at the desk with his feet propped up on a file cabinet.  He tilted his head back so that he was stretching his eyeballs to look at me through gold rim glasses.  He said, “Do you think you can do that, what I tell you I mean?”

I wanted to say yes, I’ll do what ever you want, just give me a job, but I didn’t.  I asked him about the money.  “What about the $500. a week guaranteed?”  He told me that if I did exactly what he told me to do, that I would earn a lot more than $500. a week.

He told me that I would get a draw check every Friday for $125 dollars.  He said that my commissions would add up and at the end of the month, the company would subtract my draw from my commissions and I would get a check for the rest, minus FICA.  He added that if my commissions didn’t add up to more than my draw, I would be in the “bucket.”  Guys that end up in the bucket have to go to work for “Down the Road  Motors.”

It really didn’t take me long to decide.  On a good week of driving nails, I brought home about $79.00 after taxes.  Plus Mr. Morgan told me that Ford put bonuses on certain vehicles from time to time and that would go directly to me.

I was eager to please my first day.  So eager, I didn’t notice I had that I had ketchup on my only tie.  Bonnie asked me when I got home, where I went for lunch.  What lunch?

Mr. Morgan told me that my position was on the point.  Stand on the concrete apron next to the parking area.  Help people out of their cars.  If they need parts, show them where it’s at, ask them how many payments they got left on their old ride, make friends, learn their names, get their phone number.  I figured, why not, if it makes him happy. So I did it gleefully, thinking about that guaranteed $125 I was gonna bring home that Friday.

Along about 10 AM a guy pulled up in an old Ford and started to walk out towards the used trucks.  I knew Mr. Bill was looking over my shoulder, my first step was to “meet and greet.”  That’s when you introduce yourself, shake hands, compliment the missus and try to establish common ground.

The second step is find a vehicle they like well enough to drive around the block.  The rule is, “A man won’t buy it, until he drives it.”  Mr. Bill was pretty strict about that too.  “Everybody rides.”  I got to know each used car fairly well.  I tried to make sure the radios weren’t turned all the way up and on what I though was a decent station.  Nothing kills a deal worse than a dead battery unless it’s the radio blaring AC/DC at full blast when you start the car up.

The last step was have a seat.  That’s it…..you got to get your customer inside the building, sitting in your office, to see what kind of deal you can work out with the boss.

3 Steps and 1 Rule. No Body Walks.

That meant if you’re so weak that you can’t get your customer inside to talk up a deal, you better not let them leave.  You do what you have to, to keep them there until you can tell Mr. Morgan you need help.  If you get help, it costs you half a commission or “half the deal” is what they called it. It’s called “walking, a customer,” if you don’t.  A half of something is better than all of nothing.

Once, I almost let a customer “walk.”  I held the door open for the lady to get in her car, when Mr. Bill got on the loud speaker and said, “See if they’ll give you a ride home, you’re gonna need it if they walk.”  I grabbed a pocketbook that I saw on a nearby table and I chased the customer down the road as they were leaving.  I kept hollering, “Your pocketbook, you forgot your pocketbook.”

 

The people stopped.   I told them that, “my boss said you forgot your pocketbook.  The lady showed me her purse and said no, it wasn’t hers.  I convinced them to come back and tell my boss, so he won’t think I lied.  When we got back to the dealership, Jim James came out to greet us, shook hands, brought them inside, sat them down and asked what type of cars had they been looking at.  I remember the magic words he used that day.  “If I can get you enough money for your trade in, will you be willing to do business today?  He sold them a new ’77 Granada, jade green.  I got half the deal.  Mr. Morgan just told me, “Go get another one Sport.”

Getting back to my story on my first customer.  I got him past steps 1 and 2.   He liked an 1975 Ford Explorer pick up.  We were in the office, sitting down.  I even had the buyer’s order filled out, partially.  When it came time to ask about a trade in, he got up to go.  With panic setting in, I found out that his trade in needed a timing gear and chain.  He was here to get parts and just took a minute to look at the trucks.  He said he couldn’t trade until he got it fixed.

I told Mr. Morgan what was up.  He noticed that the guys trade-in was a 1971 Pinto.  He told me to sit the fellow down and find out how much he wanted for his 1971 Pinto with a bad timing gear.  Long story short, We made a deal.  $750 trade allowance pending appraisal of trade.

Mr. Morgan said it looked like I earned about 250 on that one, go get another.

I noticed some of the other salesmen hadn’t made a sell yet, but they were going to lunch and returning.  I was getting hungry too.  Still, I did like I was told and caught a new car up and was busy for the next hour and half until she was over the curb and burning gas.  The lady bought a 1976  white Granda while the ’77s were coming out.  They sold new cars cheap sometimes.  I made $50 commission and a $50 dollar spiff from Ford.  Good deal.  Half a day went by and I’ve earned $350 bucks.  I was the only guy to have his name on the board today, surly I can go get some lunch.

Mr. Morgan told me when I asked, that the coverage on the sales floor looked kinda thin.  He said he couldn’t spare me right now.

Robert Harris, of Harris Trophy’s on Lem Turner came in.  I greeted him, he wanted to order a new Ford E-150 van for his business (I think he showed dogs on the side).  We sat down with the catalog and wrote down everything he wanted.  He pretty much paid the asking price, paid cash.  I believe it was a $1,600 dollar deal and my cut was $400 bucks.  Not a bad day.  We located him one a week later, almost exactly like he wanted, painted Champagne with the bat wing side doors.

I didn’t ask to go to lunch this time.  It was going on 6 o’clock.  I noticed a guy leaving the parts department and I flagged him down.  I got him to drop me off at Hardees on the other side of I-95 and Golfair and I walked back.

When I got back Mr. Bill asked me if I had been put on a schedule yet.  He told me that I was on A team and that I could take the rest of the day off.

It never got old to me.  Mr. Bill kept me on the point.  Pretty soon we developed a rapour .  He got to where he trusted me.  If I told him that the guy I was working was a “Preacher, painter or a pipe smoker,” that meant he was bogus.  He’d tell me that if I could get them to kick a tire where he could see it, it would be okay to let them walk.

Wade Mallory was our Finance manger. He was a young energetic guy.  It seems like he was always ruining my customer’s credit.  According to them, their credit was always “aces, straights and flushes.”  The reply from the bank would be “El Paso.”  A real stinkeroo non grattis.  I’d end up with a busted flush.

T-Birds, back in ’77 they were hot.  Ford was on strike, we could only get a few.  They went for 2,000 dollars over sticker.  I catch an “up” one day.  The guy wanted a new T Bird.  He kind of looked familiar to me.  The only one we had was on the show room floor.  I got it off the floor and took the man for a drive. I let him drive on I-95 and back around coming up Norwood to Golfair.  That’s when he showed me his chemical business and pool supplies.  Jake Godbold.  I’ve heard the name but I couldn’t place the face.

Mr. Jake liked the car and he said he’d take it but he only wanted to pay a hundred dollars over cost and wanted to see the invoice.  Here I’ve been with this cracker all day.  I knew my boss wouldn’t take a skinny-mini deal on a new T Bird from any body.  To add to it, Firestone was on strike too.  No spare tires, just a metal rim in the trunk.  Mr. Jake wanted Crown Ford to throw in the spare as part of the deal.

When I told Mr. Bill, he leaned back in his chair, feet on the cabinet and looked at me again through those gold rims glasses and said to me, “Go tell Mr. Godbold, he can kiss my ass.  Did you hear me, what did I say?”  I repeated my directions and I know Mr. Bill was in hearing range when I told Mr. Jake that, “My boss told me to tell you to kiss his ass.”

His race got red all of a sudden.  I thought maybe he was gonna blow a gasket, when all of a sudden he busted out laughing and said, “Fair enough.”  He shook my hand and thanked me for my time.  A few days later I see him again lined up at the service desk with a new jade green T Bird.  That rascal.  Instead of spending his money in his neighborhood and supporting his neighbors, he went across the bridge and bought a new car from Lynch-Davidson.

Mr. Morgan got a stapler in his hand and went outside to the Service Isle.  He told Mr. Jake he could just take that car back across the river and get Lynch-Davidson to do the free service work on it.  They argued for a minute, Jake left mad.  He was still mad when I saw him at the dog track on Commonwealth a year or two later.  (but that’s another story).

My first month, I sold 22 cars.  I made salesman of the month.  That garnered me a $100 dollar bonus.  All told, I earned just under $2500 that month.  I never wanted to drive another nail.  I worked for the Holcombe  family, (Jim, Mark and Charlotte) they owned Crown until they sold out, over a year later.

My second month, I could only get 12 cars over the curb.  Mr. Morgan took me to one side and asked me if I knew why?  I told him no, I don’t.  He told me that, “I quit doing what I was told. Now you act like you know it all.  Let me tell you son, you won’t ever know it all.”  My third month, I went back up to 21 and I never sold under 20 cars a month again, ever.

A couple days after my first sell, a wrecker was coming up Walgreen Rd. toward us.  It was dragging and old blue 1971 Ford Pinto.  My customer was riding up front.  He said he love his truck and wanted to finalize our deal and get his Pinto appraised.  I went in to tell “Wild Bill.”  I was cringing, thinking my deal might go sour.  That Pinto wasn’t worth the tow bill.

Mr. Bill told me to ask the customer if he would be willing to buy that car back for 20 dollars.  To which the customer gleefully complied.  I was both surprised and in awe when Mr. Bill handed me the $20 and said, “Here Son, I owe you a lunch.”

I left out the part where I sold a guy from Ecuador a couple new pickups.  He ordered a lot more and put up strong deposits.  He was driving down I-95 from New York and buying and shipping new trucks to Guayaquil, Ecuador.  I was the only guy in the building that spoke any Spanish, so I guess he was my up.

After making a deal on two trucks and ordering four more, He pulled down his pants in my office.  There to the inside of his pants pockets he had wads of American cash sewed in.  He dropped his drawers pulled out the cash, pulled his britches up and paid me all of it on the spot.

I found out later what he was doing.  He would buy any flashy looking new truck he could find. Then remove the “Custom” emblems and install ones that read, “XLT.” From there he would just add things that he could buy over the counter to make them look like they were high dollar.  Chrome mirrors, chrome step bumper, any thing flashy.  His trick was he was taking them to Ecuador, where the “Indios,” as he called them had just discovered that their land was covered in diamonds and gold.  The Indios didn’t know know hide nor hair about trucks but they knew that “XLT” was top of the line.

At first, I would deliver the trucks myself to the Port of Entry, Miami Beach.  Leave the keys and the MSO (Manufactorer’s Statement of Origin) in the glove box.  Two months later he would show up and buy more.  The last I knew, there were 4 trucks that had been sitting over a year waiting for him.  I can only guess that the Indios caught on.

Crown Ford was an island.  A small place on a dead end road, next door to a furniture store.  We didn’t get much traffic.  It was tough sometimes.  Mr. Morgan told us that if anyone came here, they were either looking for a car or looking for a salesman.  Mr. Bill left after about a year.  Wild Bill went back to Dallas.  Bewildered, I wondered what was gonna happen to me.  Before he left, Mr. Bill told me, “Son, if you can sell cars here, you can sell cars anywhere.”

Now, all my ties have ketchup stains.

 

 

 

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