Nassau Nessy

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 seemed 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.  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.  There on the beach, about a hundred yards away from us, near 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 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 bridge.

I thought about this many times since.  This sea creature was making it’s way back to the water’s edge.  It’s possible that 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 moving along with the tide, inland, away from the ocean.

My brother and I were all 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 later.  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 8 or 9 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 newspaper and tell them that I’ve seen it too.  She just 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 town.

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.  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.  I keep wondering though it may be because they are like me and are waiting for collaboration.

Well, 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.  I can still hear that Croaker while he was flopping around on the bridge, laughing at us.

Preachers, Painters and Pipe Smokers.

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.  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. a week guaranteed.  No experience necessary.

I found a 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.

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 catsup on my 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.  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 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.

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 Malloy was our Finance manger. He was a young energetic guy.  He always found a reason to get on my ass though.  I probably made it easy for him.  It made me a better salesman.

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.

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 and 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  (Jim, Mark and Charlotte) family that 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,” 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.  Before he left, he told me, “Son, if you can sell cars here, you can sell cars anywhere.”

 

 

 

Give me a call.

Right before Matt Dillion gets in a shoot out, the phone rings, everyday.

“No, she’s not here.”  The call is never for me,  so why do I answer?  Of course, that’s only one out of 6 calls.  The rest are from folks trying to sell me a warranty on my 15 year old truck or wanting me to change my Plan B Healthcare.  Wait…be right back.  Okay, it was just the guy from Policeman’s Benevolent Association with a gruffy voice wanting donations.  I told him was busy, he said he will call back later.  I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to that.

Thank the Lord for caller I.D.  The numbers for incoming calls show up on our television screen.

They’re getting good now, trying to sneak calls in, they will use numbers  from the neighbor hood.  You know, the same prefix numbers as yours.  That’s so, even though you don’t recognize the number, you impulsively think that it must be a neighbor or one of your kids is at a neighbor’s house, calling you for something important.

Wrong, It’s a guy telling me that their has been some unusual activity on my credit card.  Before he can divulge any more information, he wants me to give him my full name, address and credit card number.

I’m thinking, “Hey, you called me,” and hang up.

It’s a good thing the western channel shows Matt Dillion on a loop or else I’d never get to see a shoot out.

The phone isn’t for me.  I don’t use it.  When I’m alone, most of the time I just let the recorder take care of everything.  I don’t know what buttons to push, to play the messages back, but that’s okay.  At least I got the message.

It gets pretty bad sometimes.  I’d pull my hair out, if I had any left.  I even tried to call the suicide prevention hotline, I was ready to end it all.  A guy with an Eastern accent, Pakistani I think, answered the phone.  He asked me what was wrong.  I told him that I am sick of getting unwanted phone calls.  I just want it to stop.  I was thinking about killing myself.  He said, “Good, can you drive a truck?”

I always wondered who lists their phone listing as “Anonymous?”  You know I ain’t answer that contraption if “Unknown,” pops up.  Sometimes they’ll juggle the caller’s names around, thinking you’ll respond.  “Unlisted, Private,  SSA, School Board”  Yeah right.  A Process server would be proud of their efforts to get through.

My wife just said that my sister called.  They are having a big cook out and want us to come.  I said, “Oh great, let’s go.  When is it?”  She said, “Last Saturday.”

Well, let me get back to Matt Dillion.  It’s almost time for another shoot out.

 

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?”·