My Mind

My Mind
This is my mind

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Little People 1

There are Little People in the low country. I'm not speaking of people of my size who can buy their clothing in the boy's department. The Little People I'm on about here are those tiny folk of Irish legend. I know. I know. You think I'm daft. It's possible I am a bit but you have to listen. They've been here for generations. They came across the ocean in the luggage of our Irish settlers of long ago. Upon landing on our shores they flung themselves from the baggage compartments thrilled to be rid of the rolling and heaving carriage across the rollicking waves. They ran for their lives to the shelter of wood and marsh. Aye. They are here. Their countenance not see due to their size and adept ways of hiding beyond sight. Who would look beneath a toadstool in a downpour? Yet, there they may be standing sheltered from the heavy rains.
I bring this up because I think I may have seen them. Small communities with the same concerns as we bigger ones. Theirs is a closeness born of hiding in shadows and amongst the undergrowth of virgin wooded areas. With all the construction it has become less safe for them but they struggle on. Yet not without tussles among their own. I was witness to one such struggle.
On my early morning constitutional I happened upon a tiny village barely discernible from the woodland around it. I happened to spy movment at the rear of the tiny collection of homes. Hiding behind a tree and being completey still I watched.
The early morning grey almost hid the group of solemn little men trudging purposely toward a large oak stump. A light mist hung lightly across the marsh beyond. NOt a word was spoken until they reached the stump which was a huge landmark to people of such size.
"Alright, gentlemen. Choose your weapons."
The tallest of them held a finely polished deeply stained oaken box which was open displaying two exquisite pistols in miniature. The wooden stocks and polished barrels were aligned butt to barrel in parallel indentations lined with purple velvet. It was presented to the two facing one another.
"I'll have this one," said the man on the right.
"And I this one," said the other.
The tall one stepped back closing the box. He spoke in a deep voice for one so small.
"Well, gentlemen, you have chosen your weapons. These be the rules. You will stand back to back until I say begin. Then you will walk forward ten paces at which time you will turn and prepare to fire. Is this understood?"
Each nodded assent.
The two stood back to back the pistols in their hands pointing skyward. A crow's call was echoed through the still morning air.
Once again the tall one spoke, "Before we begin, does anyone have anything to say?"
A moment's pause was given to avert this activity. No one spoke.
"If not, then, begin your ten paces."
The two moved forward. Each step doubling the distance between them. At ten paces they stopped. Each took a slow deliberate turn. Each held his pistol upright at the ready to be aimed.
"Aim!" The command broke the silence.
"Fire at will!"
In unison they lowered their pistols. When each was level and pointed in the other's direction a moment passed.
Maybe they were considering a halt this deadly activity, I was thinking. But at the next moment.
The morning stillness erupted into the blast of the first pistol shot followed by the second.
Crows took wing shouting insults at the two fools lying in the dew drenched grass.
Those who had stood by the oak stump broke into a run towards the two downed men.
"Over here. Our man is bleeding profusely. Doctor! Bring your kit!"
"No! We need you here. Our man is bleeding from his scalp. Doctor, come quickly."
But the doctor had already reached the one on the left and was kneeling beside him.
"It's your foot. The ball has torn into your foot. It's a poor day for you, laddy. You've seen the last of your dancing days boyo. Those table tops will have to forgo your jig in future. You won't even be able to walk the same much less dance."
He handed a bandage to one of the men stooped over the wounded man.
"Put this on the wound. Press tightly to stop the bleeding while I go check the other fool."
He walked the 20 paces briskly to the second prone figure.
"Let's have a look. It's not a puncture wound. It looks like you have a bit of wood imbedded in your eyelid. What the... Ah. I see. Look up at that branch. Your opponent must have shot high striking that limb chipping this splinter off and it ricocheted into your eyelid. It smashed your eye pretty good, but, at least, it isn't ruptured. I'll patch it for now. In a few weeks your vision should be back to normal."
"Your shot, though, has permanently damaged your opponent's foot. He'll never dance again."
"That'd be good then. I caught him with me wife, dancing, on a table top. It's good that I hit his vulnerable spot. Hit him where it hurts, the scum. He'll never dance with another man's wife again. HAHAHA hahahha.
"Yes, you took away the joy in his life but you were lucky. your eye will heal. You'll be able to look at your wife and dance with her. Perhaps you should celebrate your victory with a night out for you and the missus."
"What? Take that cheatin' low life out. Nuhttin' doin'" I'll keep her under lock and key from now on. She won't be dancin' with anyone again either."
"It's a lesson not learned, I'm fearin'," the doctor said shaking his head. He picked up his bag and returned to his other patient.
"Well, me boy, you'll live, but take my advice and stop dancing on tables with other men's wives. PFFT! What am I sayin'. You won't be dancin' with anyone. I think maybe your opponent hit you where he intended. At first I thought he was just a terrible shot. heheh."
"Did you just chuckle, Doc?"
"Heheheh, no, boyo I didn't." With that the doctor headed back to the village houses.
The man with the bleeding foot was helped to his feet. He hobbled back to his one room hut.
I watched and considered. A duel over a dance. How absurd Little People are. I struck off and onto my path to continue my walk.
'I wonder what that one with the shattered foot will do now,' I thought. "maybe I'll look back in on that little settlement another day and see if I can catch up."

Face South, please...

"You going to the dance?"
"I don't really dance too well."
Freshman year at the College of Charleston was totally new ground socially. We wore beanies for crying out loud. It couldn't have been more embarrassing if ther had a propeller on top. Nobody could feel like a grownup wearing a maroon beanie. All Freshmen were issued this small hat with a tiny bill. The color was maroon with white stripes from four points meeting beneath a button. It was a requirement of the school that they be worn by all first year students while on campus. Crappy little beany, I thought each morning I clapped it on my noggin.
It mussed up my hair.
I liked my hair. For years I'd been training it with gobs of Butch Hair Wax in the tiny red can. It was twice the size of a snuff container. There was never a stray hair with this stuff. I'd whip my comb out of my pocket and slide it carefully through the long locks on each side into a small DA at the nape of my neck. A quick twist at the front provided the casual fall of hair across my forehead. A style mastered after many hours standing before a mirror perfecting the movements. There were times when the comb had to be jettisoned due to the thick roll of Butch Hair Wax at the base of the teeth. To slide it back into the pants pocket would leave a unwanted smear along the pocket opening. In these cases it was easier to buy another dime comb for a quarter. They were in most convenience stores in a plastic container.
All those years of training were in vain in the fall of 1964 when we were told to wear the freshman beanie if we intended to stay at C of C.
My friend and I were marching to chapel. I make it sound like we were in the military and it kind of was. Each Wednesdy we were required to attend chapel. It was at the top of the winding stairs that led to the doors just beyond the columns at the top of those stairs. It was mandatory, the same as the beanie. Folding chairs were laid out along the floor row on row. The dark stain of the floor shown in opposition to the light colored chairs. We chose our seat only to rise when the Administrator walked through the side door. Then we were subjected to the next ritual of this old southern liberal arts college.
"Would everyone stand please and face the south. That's looking toward those doors behind you," said the important soul at the podium now at our backs due to our about facing.
"Bow your heads, please, and repeat after me."
The entire freshman class, that was required to be there--did I mention that?--did as requested and the Lord's Prayer was ended with an amen. Feet shuffled, voices murmurred and chairs scraped across the floor as we turned once again to the front and sat. We sat through some boring words said to be vitally important for a freshman's understanding of college life. WE daydreamed while squirming to keep our butts from going to sleep as this important soul yammered on. Some people require a captive audience to feel their importance I figured as I shifted in my chair.
When the ordeal was finally over we left by the side doors. The inner stairwell ended beside my first class, Calculus I. The professor who walked in after we sat at our desks looked exactly like Woody Allen. We soon found that his sense of humour was nothing like that of Woody Allen. His sense of humour was completely non existent. He was as dry as paint and as boring as the subject. He spent the entire hour droning on about sets and numbers and blah blah blah. When I wasn't day dreaming I was being punched by my buddy each time the snoring began. The professor eyed my area several times during the hour. I figured he was seeing who his prize students were going to be. Since math was an easy subject for me I had no doubts this course would be a breeze. But that's another story.
Between classes we wandered over to the student union to order some breakfast and coffee to knock the sleep out after that bit of dullness. Sitting at counter we watched the beanied girls come through the door.
"You'd better enjoy looking at the pretty girls the first week," an upper classman had told me the first day.
"Why?" I asked.
"Once they get into the classes they won't have time to fix themselves up like that. That time will be taken up with studying. They are going to look pretty bedraggled after the first couple of weeks, hair all stringy and less and less make up. This is the best they will look for the rest of the year."
I had laughed at him but his words were prophetic. Some looked like zombies staggering around after the weight of college work finally took hold. It was culture shock to all of us. After all my hair just wouldn't stay in place with that confounded beanie. I could relate.
"Did you ever answer me about the dance?" my buddy asked.
"No, not really. I don't know anybody here yet."
"Well, here they come. You got a lot a choices there."
In walked blondes and brunettes in short skirts all colors of the rainbow. They always came in groups chatting and laughing. It made it hard for guy not quite sure of himself in a new environment. We watched them all come in and slide into booths. One out of each bunch would get up to walk to the counter to give the cook everyone's order. We'd eye them carefully while being look over ourselves. Normally my friend and I got the once over once with maybe a smile but not much more. These young ladies were in the market for the quick recognition. They were trolling for upper classmen. They wanted to be at the top of the food chain from the start.
To pledge a fraternity or sorority was the ambition of most freshmen. Theirs was to become Tri Deltas, top o' the lot, or, at least, that was their belief. Freshman year was a mad scramble to those so inclined to pledge to the best.
Continuing to watch the colorful parade of new female students my eye was captured by a slim brunette who wore no beanie. She was with a small group and seemed quiet amongst the chatter. She held her books in front as she walked by. I thought I saw a quick glance my way. My heart raced. Her short hair was a rich dark crossing her forehead overshadowing deep brown eyes. Her skin was flawless and pale with lips of crimson asking to be kissed. I was lost in a dream filled with music and perfumed air gently wafting past me. I floated born up by the gentle breeze she generated as she slipped by me. Beanies shmeanies I was in love. I was in love with an upper classman. She had touched my soul with that one glance. I had to find my way into her life.
"So, what do you think?" asked my buddy.
"Huh? What?" he startled me. I crashed into the reality of my thoughts as they dropped from the air to the floor. She was beyond my grasp. Only ten feet away in a booth but light years away on the social scale.
"I'm in love," I said to no one in particular. "See that girl in the booth. The beautiful brunette?"
"You talking about that upper classman?"
"Yeah. Ain't she wonderful?"
"Ha! You're a dreamer, aren't you? She won't give you the time of day."
"I know. I gotta do something though. I can barely move."
And I didn't. I sat gazing at her for the entire she sat with her friends. Maybe she felt uncomfortable, I don't know. Having a freshman staring in your direction might be a bit disconcerting but I wasn't able to control myself. She was all I saw.
My freshman year was a tangle of bad decisions and terrible mistakes. The college campus, along with the rice patties of Viet Nam, brought out the worst in me. The brunette? Oh yes, we began to date after I got the nerve to apporoach her. We were an item that first year until I made stupid, stupid mistakes after which she could never find it within to forgive me. She will always live in my heart with a large dose of regret. I often wonder what she is doing now. Life is ...something, isn't it.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Miss Lillie?

The night air was still as I trudged to the car. Three history books along with three notebooks filled with loose pages of research made a heavy load. Upon opening the door my bundle fell over into the seat and the floor.
"Dammit!" My word broke the silence of the night. I picked them up and slid into the driver's seat.
"Man, I don't want to go into town." It had been a long day. Classes took their toll but it was the aftermath that was truly draining. Not only did I have to read a hundred pages of my history book but my paper was due first thing in the morning. College was so different from high school. These professors expected way too much. Again I had to miss a beer bust at the pub. It was the library or bust. I still didn't have all the material to write the paper which meant I'd be up all night writing after gathering more research. This was too much.
The old library at C of C Was a cracker box encased in concrete. It sat along the wall on the left as you approached the main building just in line with the cistern. It was two stories, two cramped stories. Upon entering stood the front desk usually manned by a student. My friend S-- was working this night. The shelves took up most of the room. They were filled to the rafters with books. The second story was simply a railed walkway along the walls with small tables positioned along the outer wall.
The person at the desk always knew someone was entering due to the squeak of the door hinges and the creak of the well worn floor boards. This building had known the feet of students prior to the Civil War. It was quiet as a tomb when everyone found a table and began their studies. The smell of old paper and leather mingled with the dust of ages. The only sounds were the shuffle of feet and the occasional cough or sneeze generated by the dust disturbed by air currents eddying upward from the door's opening.
The car cranked right away. Another "Dammit!" split the air. I'd hoped it wouldn't start giving me an excuse to stay home. I backed into the street. I heard the lonely hoot of an owl in the pine at the edge of the road. It sent shivers down my spine. I put it in first and hit the gas.
The streets were unusually empty as I drove across the Ashley River. It seemed much later than seven since there were so few cars. Very unusual, I remarked to my self.
I turned left at the College campus and parked beside the library. There weren't any students walking along the sidewalk. It was odd. Normally there were groups idling along laughing and joking amonst themselves.
'Everyone must have papers to turn in,' I thought. 'It'll be crowded in there I bet.'
I got out and leaned over to gather my books when something touched me. I thought it was M--who had planned to meet me inside. A breeze licked my face as I stood and turned to greet her. She wasn't there. My eye caught the movement of a small branch of oak tumbling along the sidewalk. A rustling above grabbed my attention. A large owl settled in the branch overhanging the campus fence. He looked at me. HOOO! he asked.
"I don't know," I said startling myself. Quickly gathering my books, I slammed the door and hurried to the front door. Pale yellow light shown through the windows above and below. On the drab pink walls danced shadows in the moonlight. Again I heard the owl, his eyes looking directly at me. That shiver returned. I shoved the door aside never so glad to see the glow of the inside of this tiny building.
My friend was at the front desk.
"Hi," I said. "Kinda creepy out there."
"Yeah, I noticed it was kinda quiet too." She had a rubber stamp in hand clapping it onto papers atop the desk.
"I'm gonna go upstairs. Will you tell M-- where I am? She was going to meet me."
"Sure." She returned to stamping papers.
Each stair had it's own creaking sound. S-- said she could tell where a person was by the sound of the boards. I nodded to the others sitting at tables as I made my way past them. An empty one sat in the corner. Most of them were occupied but the only sound was the rustle of a page being turned. I recognised a couple in the corner and nodded to them. The nod was returned.
I sat spreading my books and papers on the small table. My chair scraped the floor attracting scornful looks. I shrugged and sat. The top arch of the window was to my right. I looked into the dark of the night beyond watching the limbs sway in the breeze. I began ot wonder where M-- might be. Normally she wasn't late. It wasn't like her not to show.
I was there to study and get this paper done. Into the world of the civil war I jumped. Why I had chosen the Civil War I didn't know. Maybe because Charleston was the focal point at the beginning. I could imagine the students at this college being outraged a hundred years ago by the North's continued occupation of Fort Sumter. How dare they? We were no longer a part of their oppressive control.
"Rickey! I'm so happy to see you." She was standing on the cistern in light blue gingham, her bonnet shading rich brown eyes set on only me. She twirled her parasol.
"Miss Lillie, it's such a pleasure." I held her hand to my lips. She began to blush.
"I do declare, sir. You take liberties," she said leaving her hand in mine.
"I guess you have heard, have you not? I shall enlist."
"Oh yes! I am so proud I could just bust." Her smile radiated warmth into my heart.
"My fellow students and I will be reporting for duty this very afternoon. Those citadel boys will be manning the cannon on the battery. I do hope they will fire on the Fort soon. We must have control of all our land."
"Do you think it will mean wah?" she asked.
"No, dahlin. Those Yankees will go running back to their border as soon as we show them we mean business. They're cowards really."
"Will you come to momma's this afternoon? And wear your uniform. I do love a man in uniform."
"As soon as I have been given my commision I will certainly come by."
"You go do your duty, sir. Show those Yankees their place. I'll be on the porch. You do like a good mint julip I'm sure."
"Why yes ma'am. I've been known to throw back a few, uh, I do indeed Miss Lillie. Now if you will pardon me, I must be on my way," I said bowing to her.
"Why yes. You men must go have your little wahs. We'll be looking for you tonight, sir."
My encounter with Miss Lilie excluded all the hubbub surrounding us. Students in groups were shouting, swearing to send those Northeners back where they came from. I joined in with several good friends. Our group shouted louder and longer than any of the others. We began to march to the recruiting office.
"Here you go, son, sign on the dotted line," said the man behind the desk. I had told him what I wanted, a commision and a fine feathered hat. He had agreed to provide my sword as well just so long as I signed on the dotted line. He was all smiles and promises before I signed. But before the ink had dried he barked out, "Get these men to the baracks! Put 'em on KP!"
We were hustled along the street to a huge long building painted green and filed through. It was such a humiliating experience that I won't go into it at this time. The sergeant did tell me not to be so pissy in future.
They taught us to march, shine shoes and peel potatoes not to mention putting up a tent and building a fire. We drilled with muskets, shot targets and learned to reload in seconds. The entire time I kept yelling, "What about the wah? What about firing on Fort Sumter? What about my afternoon with Miss Lillie and my mint julip?"
"You must be dreamin' boy. Fort Sumter fell to us over a year ago."
"Huh? I only just joined up. The fighing was supposed to be over by Christmas. What's going on?"
"Well we goin' ta a place called Gettysburg so you better quit yo' complainin' and git yo' geah tagethah."
"Whoa, wait. Gettysburg? I don' wanna go to no Gettysburg. Don't you remember what happens at Gettyburg? We gonna lose."
"What you talkin' 'bout, private? Genul Lee done tole us we gonna kick them Yanks back to Washintun. You git yo stuff tagetha."
"Wait. No. Miss Lillie. What happened to Miss Lillie? I was supposed to go over to gather my favors from Miss Lillie? I ain't goin' to no Gettysburg without seein' Miss Lillie!"
"Keep it up private and you gonna see the wrong end of five riles aimed at you."
"No. No. No. Miss Lillie!" I began to scream. "MIss Lillie!"
A tap on the shoulder woke me.
"Huh? What? Miss Lillie?" I said gazing into the overhead light.
"Just who is Miss Lillie?!" asked M--.
"Oh, hi, honey. When'd you get here?"
"Don't Honey me. Who's Miss Lillie?"
"Huh? I don't know."
"You've been yelling Miss Lillie for fivce minutes while I've been trying to wake you. You better tell me now!"
"I must have been dreaming. I don't know a Miss Lillie. Honest. It was a dream."
I don't think she believed me but she sat down and spread her books. I don't think she got much studying done, either, the way she was watching me. It's like she thought I was going to join up or something. Maybe at a future date but not this night.
Needless to say, I turned my paper in late.

Sunday, January 29, 2012


 “Here you go.  Now take that to your father.”  She handed him a small basket covered over with a ragged cloth.  “Now you hurry.  He’s hungry I know.  And don’t forget the water.  It’s a hot day and he’ll be thirsty.  Don’t touch any of this.  You’ve already had your meal.”
 “Yes, mother,” he said, slipping the goatskin over his shoulder.  “I’ll walk fast.”
 The road was ancient.   Many had traveled along this path which led to Jerusalem.  Jacob had been to Jerusalem once with his family.  They had made the trip in better times when his father had been a fisherman.  That was the living he had loved.  The wage was far better, too.  Jacob didn’t think much about that.  He picked up stones along the road and skipped them out over the sand.
 It was a blistering hot day.  The sun beat down as it always had on this rocky path.  A crow flew overhead.  He picked up a heavier rock and threw with all his might.  The bird tipped his wing averting the stone with ease. 
  “Could have got him with my sling,” he said.
 He stopped a moment and placed the basket on the roadside.  The leather water carrier was digging into his shoulder and he heaved it to the other side.  As he leaned over to pick up the basket a chariot sped passed him kicking up dust. 
 “Damned Roman,” he muttered under his breath.  That was what his father said each time he saw one.  His father hated all Romans.  “They enslaved our people,” he always said.  “One day we will send them packing.  One day, when the messiah comes.”  Jacob repeated his father’s oft-stated phrase as he began to pick up his pace.
 The field was beyond the next rise.  The road was crowded with men walking in the direction of the hill. 
 “I’ve never seen so many in this part of the road before.  What could be going on?” Jacob spoke out loud.
 “Boy, don’t you know. He is going to speak.  Come.  Listen.  He loves children.  He would be happy to see you with me.  I’m one of the chosen to follow him.  My name is Andrew.  Come with me.  I’ll take you up close so you can hear him and he can see you.”  He led Jacob up through the crowd and they sat on the grass incline.
 The young man standing at the top of the hill was framed by a great golden cloud.  He looked down at Jacob and smiled.  Jacob smiled back and sat down placing his basket between him and Andrew.  He let the heavy water skin slide off his shoulder.
 Jacob sat spellbound before this man who spoke softly.  No one seemed to notice how quietly he spoke.  Each man, woman, and child sat still as if entranced.  The birds sang in the nearby trees.  The lilies of the field began to sway in the breeze producing a gala color fest for the eyes.  He spoke of these things.  He spoke in plain language.  Jacob always squirmed in God’s house because he never understood what the Rabbi was saying.  Always words he never understood about things beyond him.  As this man spoke, in his quiet way, Jacob's heart filled with a joy he had never experienced.  It completely engulfed him.  He was lost in the warmth of the sun, the blue of the sky, the song in the air and the waltzing petals along the hill’s incline.
 “What do you have in your basket?” asked Andrew.  He lifted the cloth.
 “It’s my father’s midday meal,’ Jacob answered.
  “Midday meal, is it?  Past that now, my boy.”  He looked to the sky and pointed out the sun’s decline to the west.
  “Oh no, my father will beat me.  My father’s been working all day without anything since this morning.”
  “It’s all right, lad,” said Andrew lifting the cloth on top of the basket.   “Here, this boy has three loaves and two fish, but it’s hardly enough to feed so many.”
 “Wait, I can’t let you have this.  I’ve got to run.  He’s famished, I know.”
  The man on the hill approached and placed his hand on Jacob’s shoulder.  “Don’t be anxious, Jacob.  It will be all right.  Would you allow me to have your loaves and fishes?”
 “I can’t.  It isn’t mine.”
  “I promise you it will be fine if you will allow me?”
  He looked up at him.  He looked at his basket and then the sun.  He looked into the man’s eyes and lifted the basket to him.
“Thank you, son.”
  He walked to the top of the hill, raised the basket to the sky and said a brief prayer.  He returned to the men who accompanied him and began to break the bread and fish into pieces, which he gave to each of his twelve followers.  They made a basket of their garments and he filled each with the broken bits.  Jacob stared in astonishment.  “Where did all that come from?” he asked no one in particular.
The followers of this man walked out into the crowd and began to give to each person as much as he wanted. “So many,” thought Jacob.  He looked at the man who handed back his basket, now empty.
 “You have given all you had for others without thought of yourself.  Your heart is in the right place.  Do not lose this.”
 Jacob took the basket and held it tightly thinking this is what he meant.
“No.  You misunderstand,” he said.  He touched his chest.  “This is what I am talking about.  Don’t lose the open and loving heart that beats in your chest.  Do you love God?”
“I’m not sure I know Him.”
 “Yes, you know Him.  He speaks to you now, here.”  He touched his chest again.  “Do not forget Him, and always love your fellow man as you did here today.  Do not forget.  Promise me.”
 “I promise,” though he had no idea why he was promising.  He turned to leave with his empty basket and the water skin.
“Wait,” said Andrew.  “Take this to your father.”  He handed him a basket twice the size of his own.  It was heaped with bread and fish.  The aroma of fresh bread and cooking fish poured out from beneath the cloth.  His mouth watered but he had to get to his father.
 The man waved at him as he ran down the hill dodging people and animals.  He ran all the way to the field where his father worked.
“Jacob, where the hell have you been?  Your mother promised she would send you hours ago!” he yelled at him.
“I’m sorry, father.  I was stopped by a crowd of people who sat listening to a man speaking upon the hillside.”
“Where the hell is my meal?  Give me the water.”  He snatched it from Jacob’s shoulder pulling him to the ground.  His father drank greedily.  His eyes fell upon the basket.  “Where’d you get that?  That’s not ours.”
“The man gave it to me.”
“What man?” he asked drawing back the cloth.  He sucked in the wondrous fragrance of bread fresh from the oven and fish recently cooked.  He grabbed a piece of the bread and devoured it.  The fish followed suit.  “There’s more here than I could ever eat.  What was your mother thinking?”
“Father, she only gave me three loaves and two fish.  It was yesterday’s bread and dried fish she put in the basket.  The man I was telling you about took your meal and blessed it.  He fed thousands with what I had.  Andrew gave this to me to bring to you.”
“What kind of extravagance is this?  He would shame me this way?”  Jacob’s father grew angry as he spoke.  “I’ve worked all day in this hot miserable sun pulling weeds and cutting wheat.  Then he gives away so much to loafers who sit upon the grass idling away the time listening to some vagrant preacher?”
“Father, why are you so angry?”
“I had to give up work that I loved to come to this miserable field.  If this Andrew is who I think he is, it’s all his fault.  He and Peter walked away from their boat to follow this charlatan.  Left me stranded.  I couldn’t do it alone.  I had to give it up.  Damn them all.”
“Father, you shouldn’t say that.  You weren’t there.  You’d be different if you if you had seen him.”
“I have seen him, boy.  He takes hardworking men away from their families, their livelihoods…I have seen him.  I don’t want you near him, understand?”
“But, I never felt so alive before.  There was a new wonder about life.  Everything was so much more…”
“I said I do not want you ever to go near him again.  That is my final word on this.”
“Yes, father.”
 He shoved the basket back into Jacob’s hands and threw the water skin at him.  “Now take those back home.”  He walked back into the field and picked up the scythe.  He savaged the first row he came to as Jacob stared at him.
 Jacob’s walk home was steeped in sorrow.  He wanted his father to see him, hear him.  He knew he’d change his mind if he would just listen to him.  As he approached the hill that had brought so much joy into his heart he looked up.  Everyone was leaving to go home.  The man turned to him as he looked in that direction.  Jacob saw him touch his chest over his heart and smile at him.   With that look, the joy of earlier in the day flooded back into his heart.  He nodded and touched his chest.  The man grinned then turned his face in the direction of Jerusalem.

Senior math? Crip!

"We're going to the pub. You wanna come?" They were leaning against the cistern. It sat in front of the main building of the College of Chareston like a raised oval. Enclosed in its two and a half foot wall was a plot of grass divided by a brick path in the middle. We often used the steps leading to the path to walk across, instead of around, to get to the doors beneath the archway and to our classes. It was a gathering place for students between classes or in the evenings prior to the evening meal across the street in the, then, new student union.
"I can't tonight," I said. "I have a quiz in the morning. I gotta study."
"Since when do you study?" That was a question I kept asking myself as well. This wasn't James Island High. I was having problems, especially with calculus.
In high school I'd never had problems with any math classes. They always came easy. That was evident in Senior math. Mrs. Smathers didn't think it was funny not one bit, when she stood to my right in the back of the class.
A student on the other side of the room asked her to help him with a math question on the test. She would normally have walked to the student's desk to see how she could help him or her understand without giving away the answer.
Not this time.
"I'm sorry but I cannot leave my post."
I looked up and she was staring sternly at me. I looked back down to my test. We were near the end of our senior year when she must have caught wind of what was happening at the back of her class. For me math came easy. When the tests were given I would normally finish them with time to spare. I would turn it over and lay my pencil down. Other people weren't quite as blessed as I was. During the first test of the year when I'd finished and placed my pencil into the groove of my desk top I heard a low pssst.
When I didn't acknowledge it I heard it again.
This time I turned to my friend in the desk to my right.
"What's the answer to number 2?" He whispered so low I'd never hear it these days.
I looked at him and mouthed the answer. He nodded returning to his test.
I looked up at Mrs. Smathers. She was reading at her desk completely unaware of the whispered exchange.
I looked to my right again. This time he held up four fingers. I looked at number four on my paper then mouthed the answer. He went back to working on the test. The bell rang. Students here and there began gathering books. Some still sat writing on their papers.
"Alright class. The bell has rung. Let's hand in those papers." Mrs. Smathers stood collecting the papers as students filed past her desk. The stragglers got up studying their's all the way to the front.
"Thank you, thank you," she said upon receipt of each test paper.
Beyond the door my buddy caught up.
"Thanks, man. I couldn't figure those out. I hate Senior math."
"Senior math? Crip," I said.
"Maybe for you but I'm having problems. Don't guess you can help me, can you?"
"I don't know. It just comes easy. I don't know why, but, yeah, I'll do what I can."
I wasn't a very good teacher. We did some homework together but my teaching ability was poor at best. Our solution was a bit unorthodox but..
The next test day was two weeks later. Mrs. S sat at her desk doing paperwork while we worked on the papers she had handed out. After about twenty minutes I lay my pencil down when I heard, "Pssst."
He held up five fingers. I mouthed the anwer. Then, "psst." Six fingers and an answer. This went on for ten minutes or so until he put his pencil down. All this occurred without being noticed by Mrs. S.
Outside the door I asked my friend, "Did you study at all?"
"Hell yeah I studied. I just don't get it. Maybe next time you should just hand me your paper." He said it in jest. I just looked at him.
With each new test our exchanges became bolder. Mrs. Smathers was surprised to see my buddy's grades improving. She seemed quite pleased with his progress.
Toward the end of the year and the end of Senior math I had just begun to hold my paper in my hand as I lay my head on my desk. It was in plain veiw hanging at the side of my desktop so that my friend could see the entire sheet. One of those times he simply took the paper to his desk and checked his work with mine. Then he handed it back. The girl in front of him saw the transaction. She held out her hand. I gave her my paper. From her my paper travelled in a circle back into my hands Mrs. S never noticed a thing but someone else must have. It was after this that the situation changed.
"I cannot leave my post," she said. This was her solution. She stood between my friend and me the entire period. When the bell rang she took my paper and my buddy's.
"What was that?" asked my buddy as we left the class.
"Someone must have ratted on us. She's never been that observant. The only explanation is someone told her what was going on in our corner."
"I think I did OK though," he said. "Maybe I got something out of all those tests because I think I may have done OK."
He was right. His grade was passing without using my paper. Mrs. S must have been satisfied that whoever ratted had been wrong. She never stood her post again, but she kept an eye on our area for the next test which was our final. We all kept our eyes in front for that one. We all passed the course too.
"If you change your mind, we'll be at the pub," said my college buddy. He brought me out of my reminiscing. If he had just been my Senior math buddy I wouldn't have this problem. He could repay the favor of those days in the back of the class. You see, calculus for him was crip. It came easy to him, dammit.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Indian love song...

"I figured we could go somewhere special since I won't be taking you to the Junior-Senior," I said magnanimously.
"That won't be necessary," she said.
"Huh? What do you mean? I know you wanted to go but..."
"I did and I do. Since you refused to take me..."
"I explained all that. You're a senior. I'm a sophomore. I wouldn't fit in. You'd be embarrassed to be with me amongst all your friends. With graduation coming up you'll all be talking about college and plans. I'd be a weight around your neck."
"How many times did I tell you that didn't matter to me?" she asked.
"Truth be known, I won't feel comfortable." I looked at her. She looked at me with tears in her eyes.
"I want to go, Rickey. With or without you, I really want to go. It's my last Junior-Senior. My guidance counsellor set me up with a nice Citadel Cadet..."
"Citadel Ca.DET? What the...? You're going with a CaDET? Well, you just have yourself a merry old time. Don't you worry about me. I'll be just fine. You go out with your damn caDET. See if I care!"
I made my way to the front door yelling at her. She was trying to apologize, tears streaming down her face. I turned my back, whipped open the door, walked through and slammed it with all my might. Half running to the tan can I was still yelling about those damned Citadel cadets. I half expected her to come after me but she never even cracked the door. I slammed the car door and shoved the key into the ignition. When it cranked I threw it into first gear and turned the wheel all the way to the left stomping the accelerator. With the wheel turned hard left and the engine receiving all the gas a pedal to the floor would give the tan can squealed around the corner leaving a small trail of rubber on the street. I fishtailed around, my hands beating the wheel to right the car. I sailed to the stop sign without stopping. I flashed across the intersection without incident. Reaching the street leading to G's house I punched it into the turn burning more rubber on the street. My car seemed to find G's house immediately. I hit the brakes slamming it to a halt in a cloud of sand, soil and grass.
I hopped out and walked up to G's front door.
"Whatchoo mad about?" It was G. standing in the half open door wiping his mouth with a napkin.
"My girl's going to the dance with damn caDET."
"Told you to stay away from that girl. She's too old for you.'
"Yeah, but I'm in love."
"Ha, yeah, I hear ya. You can come in but we're eatin'."
"Nah. I just wanted to know if you wanted to take a trip down to Florida?"
"Now. I gotta get outta town. I can't stand the thought of her with a damn Citadel caDET."
"How long we be gone?"
"Til we get back."
"When ya leavin'?"
"Soon as I can throw some clothes in a bag."
"Sure your folks will let you take the car that far for that long?"
"Yeah. Why wouldn't they?"
"It's their car? You're only sixteen? I don't know why they wouldn't."
"How about I come back for you in about thirty minutes?" He looked inside then at me.
"Sounds good to me. See you in thirty."
My mind was black with thoughts of the Citadel as I drove home. At the house I ran into my room with a grocery bag snagged from the kitchen. Rummaging through the chest of drawers I grabbed a handful of clothes tossing them into a bag.
"What's going on Rickey?" It was my mother at the door.
"G-- and I are going to Florida." it was a presumptive statement to say the least.
"How are you going to do that?"
"I'm taking the car," I said.
"I think you had better ask your dad about that."
"OK. Fine." I faced dad. "Can I take the car to Florida, dad?"
He looked at me from his easy chair. He spoke very little. When he did, you listened. He looked at me for a long time without a word. He was studying me. Finally, he spoke.
"You think you can make a long trip like that?"
"Will you be responsible with your mother's car?"
"Will you drive safely if I say yes?"
"Go ahead, son. Think before you act and be safe."
With that I was free to go.
With gracious good byes I grabbed my grocery bag full of clothes and ran to the car. I was off and gone before dad could change his mind.
G-- was ready when I got there. Before he closed his door I was leaving a cloud of rocks and sand in front of his house. At the corner, I spun around onto the road leading south. We were on our way.
My goal was to reach St Augustine. Before leaving I had sneaked in a call to a girl I knew there. She had been glad to hear from me. When I told her I was driving down, she said she'd love to see me. I was gonna get my own back. If my girl was dating a caDET, I would see an old flame. I'd show her.
G-- and I hit a storm midway in Georgia. The rain and wind were horrendous and keeping that light Corvair on the road was a battle at times. We persevered crossing the state line early in the morning. When we reached St Augustine dawn was approaching. I parked in a lot for cars visiting the local Spanish fort. We climbed out and walked over to the walls. Looking to the east we saw the dark clouds we had just driven through. The sun was inching above the horizon richly coloring the straggler clouds into a deep red and orange display. The calm. We were tired from a night of driving but the warmth and promise of the painted sky filled us both with a sense of joy.
"Wow," I said.
"Yeah, that's something. I don't think I've ever seen so many colors in the sky before." G-- was entranced as I was.
"How about some breakfast?" I was looking around for a restaurant.
"Sounds good. What time you gonna call V--?"
"Around nine I was thinking."
"Yeah let's eat. By the time we finish you can call."
"We had a leisurely breakfast at a local all night diner. G-- was asking the waitress if there was a motel near by.
Her smile was inviting. G-- was planning on accepting the invitation. He followed her with his eyes as we talked.
"Hey, look at the clock. Go call her while I talk the waitress into a date. We can double."
There was a phone booth at the entrance. Fishing ten cents out of my pocket I closed the hinged door then dropped my dime into the slot.
"Hello." Good she was up.
"Hello. We made it." The excitement in my voice was obvious, but on the other end there came a long silence.
"Hello. Are you there?"
"Uh, yeah. I tried to call you to tell you not to come."
"I called your house but your mother said you had left. I tried to stop you. I can't see you, Rickey."
"But... We had a connection before you left. I thought we could get it back."
"Yeah, I know. I felt the same but I've been gone a long time. I met someone here. We're going steady. I can't see you. I'm so sorry."
I hung up.
G-- was holding the waitress' hand looking up at her with those puppy dog eyes. Her's looked hungry. He'd worked his magic again while I'd struck out.
"Let's go," I said.
He looked at me in disbelief.
"What happened?"
"Don't wanna talk about it. Just wanna go."
He looked at her then me. "But..."
"I'm leavin'."
I had the keys ready when I closed my door. G-- slowly walked to the car with longing looks through the plate glass window. Our waitress was giving me a dirty look when her eyes weren't riveted to G--'s.
"Come on. Get it."
"You just ruined my evening. Where you gonna go?"
"We're heading west, young man, west."
Before I-10 was built there were many roads to ride goin west through the Forida panhandle. We took them all, even the sections of interstate completed. Highway 90 lead us into the small town of Milton where we stopped.
G-- pointed to the Rexall on the corner. We went in. His first act was to engage the girl behind the counter in conversation. The girl in the black and white checkered dress was very helpful. She told him where we could stay for the night and where to eat.
"Thank you, miss," I said trying to pry G-- away. He bought a camera with film. His first picture was of her. Her smile was an invitation to stay. Once again I broke the spell.
"I'm leaving."
G-- left reluctantly.
We contiued west to Penacola along with the white sand beaches. Our ride led us to Fort Pickens, the imprisonment site of Geronomo in the 1880's. As dark descended we found a motel and slept the night.
At breakfast we talked about where to go next.
"Let's go north," G-- said.
"How about North Carolina? We can visit Maggie Valley. They have a ghost town on top of one of the mountains. I remember from a vacation my parents took."
"I'm along for the ride."
We turned north and spent the day on the road. Upon arriving in Maggie Valley we checked in to a motel. The small cafe beckoned with the smell of hamburgers and fries wafting through the air.
"Let's get a good night's sleep then hit ghost town," I said spitting hamburger with my words.
The sun set earlier in the valley since the mountains blocked its descent.
The next morning we caught the bench to the top. It hung by a single metal rod to the wire inching us along, thirty feet above the slope of the mountain. Back then it was an adventure. Today I might have a bit more trouble sitting on a board moving in air so far above ground.
Ghost Town was a blast. It was the afternoon before we returned to the valley. We ventured into a local cafe to eat.
"How about some souvenirs?"
"There are lots of those around," said G--. "Let's start over there."
There was a nice little shop just beyond the cafe. Inside there were all manner of gifts on sale. Some guaranteed to be made by the members of the Cherokee tribe. Standing amongst the tourists was the most beautiful girl I've ever laid eyes on. Her outfit was authentic Cherokee dress.
"Hello," I said. "You work here?"
"What do you folks do at night for fun?" I asked her.
Her smile lit the room. "We go over to the next county. This one is dry so over there you can buy beer and dance all evening."
"Would it be possible for you and a friend to show us the way?" I signalled G-- to come over.
"G--. This lovely young lady says she'd like us to take her to Gatlinburg for some dancing."
"Well, I'm all in. Got a girl wants to dance with me?"
She looked at G--. "I think it can be arranged."
We made decided to meet there and head over to Tennessee that evening. This was hog heaven we decided.
"G--, I think I'd better call home to let my folks know we're alright."
"You're gonna mess this up, aren't you? We got two gorgeous girls, Indian girls, who want us to take 'em dancing and drinking and you're gonna mess it up. I just know you're gonna mess it up."
"I'm just gonna call to say we are fine."
"Dammit, Rickey. I know how this is gonna end. I'm gonna go tell the girls we won't be goning."
"Hold up, G--. Just a heads up call."
He stood beside the phone booth as I dialed. He watched my smile of hello slowly alter. By the time I hung up I was staring across the valley with a lost look.
"We gotta go, G--. My dad's in hospital."
"Dammit! Dammit! dammit! You couldn't wait one more day to call. Dammit!"
"Guess we better go tell the girls."
"Dammit!" G--'s vocablualry was extremely limited at this precise moment.
I found my Native American beauty and with great reluctance explained that we would not be able to take them across the stateline. She said that was OK and turned her attention to a customer. I don't think her disappointment matched G--'s and mine.
Our drive back home was interrupted by a cop knocking on the window at two in the morning. We'd pulled into a rest stop to catch a bit of sleep.
"Can't sleep here, fellas," he said. "Find a motel somewhere but not here."
Thanking him I cranked her up and pulled back on the highway. We made it back to Charleston in the wee hours of the morning. Happily my dad's condition was not too serious. His hospital stay was short.
G-- has never let me forget the chance of a lifetime we had with the two beautiful Indian girls. I'm not so happy about that loss either.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Book 'im Dano!

"Hello," I said. It was G-- on the other end of the phone.
"Goin' anywhere today?" he asked.
"I don't know. Why? Need a ride?" I was the first person in the group to get my license. At times my tan can was a means to anywhere for anybody at any time it seemed. I didn't mind, though, because I loved driving.
"Yeah, I need to get away from this house."
"Your parents?" G-- and his folks had been at odds for a few weeks. He often called just to get a ride far away.
"Yeah," he said. "I've had it this time. Can you come on over?"
"Lemme ask. Hey Mom! Can I use the car?"
"Yes you can. I'm not going anywhere today. Just don't be late."
"Yes'm. Yeah, G--, I'll be over in a few."
"Thanks, mom. I'll be careful." My mother always told me to be careful. I never understood why. Trying not to be careful was a foreign concept. How often would I ride the edge of a cliff at 50 or drive, willy nilly, into a crowd of pedestrians? It would be stupid to drive any other way but carefully. I didn't want to be a statistic. So, I beat her to the punch and let her know I would be. She smiled handing me the keys.
Outside the sun was shining, birds were singing and bees were buzzing. It was a beautiful day. Maybe a trip to Folly was in the offing.
I cranked her up and slipped the shift lever into reverse. With a backward turn and shift to first I was on my way to G's. It was a ten minute trip. All of us lived in the Terrace not more than ten minutes apart by car. We weren't really a gang. Ours was an friendship that brought us together as a group on occasion for fun. We were never like the gangs who relished trouble. We liked to stay out of trouble which for us was bad relations with our parents. Ours was an innocent group if truth be told.
I pulled up in front of G's. He saw me through the curtain. Seconds later he was walking toward me with a suitcase in hand. The screen door slammed as he opened the car door and tossed his bag in the back.
"It looks serious this time. Another fight with your dad?" He slipped into the seat slamming the door eyes to the front.
"Drive," He said without looking at me.
"OK. I thought we could ride over to Folly..."
"I don't care where. Just drive."
I looked at him as I put it into first. I shrugged my shoulders and tapped the gas. The car headed out into the street. Through the open window I heard the screen door slam a second time. In the rearview I saw G's dad running out the door. He was shouting that G-- had better come back or else.
"Should we go back?" I asked. I hadn't figured on his folks being so angry.
"Hell no. I got my bag. I'm leaving. Just drive."
He sat there without saying a word. I didn't try to breach the silence. He was fuming inside but had no wish to air the problems involved. On the radio I heard the beginning of a favorite song by the Animals. It seemed appropriate so I flipped the dial around to loud.
The air was filled with the frustrations of a generation in this song by Eric Burden. It fit G's emotions to a T. The tan can raced along Folly Highway to the music. We bounced in the seat to the beat and my terrible voice picked up with the song at IF IT'S THE LAST THING WE EVER DO! at the top of my lungs. G-- just looked at me like I was crazy but smiled as freedom loomed down the road.
When the song was over I turned the radio down and looked at G.
"Still don't want to talk about it?"
"Nope. Do you think your folks would mind if I stayed with you guys for a few days until I can figure out what to do? I don't want to go back home."
My parents had played host to most of my friends at one time or another. There were times when they just needed a break from what ever issues were being aired at home. My parents never turned any of my friends away if they asked for shelter. My parents were always good to me. I never felt the need to get away from them, but my parents weren't everybody's parents.
"I don't see why not. I'll ask them when we go home. Right now we need to have some fun. I hear the pier calling." The pier. Folly pier was the hangout on beautiful days like this. Well worn floorboards lay twenty feet above the surf. The roof sheltered a dance floor headed by a stage that often welcomed entertainment groups. Fats Domino, the Drifters and, our favorite, The Hot Nuts. Along the side was a bar which served patrons during those concerts. Beer flowed freely then. But during the day, and espeicially on Sunday, we could buy only soft drinks and burgers or the occasional hot dog. We spent many a summer and spring day on those old scuffed planks. A salty breeze blew in and through from the sea bringing the sense of freedom so desirous to young fools thinking themselves adults.
"Hey, there's a place," said G--. "That's close enough."
I pulled into the outline along the sidwalk. G-- hopped out and I followed. I was tucking my shirt in as we started toward the pier. The wind blew my hair into my face (Ah, pleasant memories). I thought I heard a voice behind me. It sounded like, Hey, you boys. Hold up.
G--must have heard it, too, because he turned and stopped. I did the same. Behind us was a uniformed gent. His khaki was burnished with a star. His brown belt carried a holstered revolver. As he approached he removed his sunglasses.
"Either of you boys named Rickey Croucher?" he asked.
"Yessir, that's me?" I responded.
"Yeah, I was told you'd be arrivin' in a tan Corvair. Well, turn around boy 'cause I gotta arrest you."
"Huh? What did I do?"
"Got a call from a distressed parent saying you kidnapped their son. That you are aiding and abetting and influencing a minor."
"I don't understand." Our day was turning to shi... Arrested? What would my parents say? How'd I get into this predicament? What was happening?
He was pulling his cuffs out to snap them on my wrists. While turning me against the tan can he looked a little puzzled. G-- was about two heads taller than me. I guess it registered with my captor because he held up on the cuffs and turned me back around to face him.
"Say, how old are you, son?" He asked me.
"Seventeen, why?"
He looked at G--. "How old are you?"
G--answered, "Eighteen."
"Shit!" said the sheriff of Folly Beach. "I can't arrest him. You aren't a minor. You're an adult. He's the minor," he said pointing at me. "Dammit! Your folks told me you'd been kidnapped and they wanted you back home. You lucked out, boy," he said speaking to me
"You ain't guilty of nothing. And you're the minor. But, hell, I gotta take somebody to jail so turn around, G--."
G-- turned. The sheriff clicked the cuffs on his wrists at his back.
"What about me?" I said. Wow! The hoosegaw! I could spend the night in the hoosegaw, I kept thinking. What an adventure.
"Go on home, boy," he shouted back. "I got no quarrel with you. I'm gonna take your pard here to the office and have his folks come pick him up."
"What about his bag?"
"Keep it!" G-- yelled at me. "I'll need it when I get out."
I watched G-- being lead over to the Folly Municipal building.
Fancy that, I thought to myself. The day had been disrupted by John Law. There was no fun to be had now, so I hopped into the tan can and drove home.
I learned later that G's parents told the sheriff to lock him up over night. They wanted to teach him a lesson. So the one for whom the warrant had been issued was free while the innocent lamb lay on a cot in jail over night. It was a weird turn of events.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Three on the floor...

In 1962 my dad bought a brand new Corvair. It was a two door, painted tan, with the new concept of an air cooled rear engine. Well, it wasn't exactly a new concept since Hitler's Volkswagon had been around for some time. But, now, with my driver's license having recently been converted from the 6 to 6 variety into a full fledged adult license, I had wheels practically any time I wanted.
It was fantastic! It was freedom! It was three on the floor. I have to admit here that three on the floor was not the ideal four on the floor but the gear shift was not on the column. It was as close to a hot rod as I could imagine. Kicking the clutch, slamming the gear into the dashboard with mercurial shifts while flooring the accelerator sent my imagination along the Darlington speedway with supercharged wings. The actuality was not so lightning fast but, hell, it was three on the floor and the dream to be Fireball Roberts incarnate. I was purring down the highway in a streak of tan.
That summer I began work at the Charleston Rubber Company. My dad had worked in the main plant for a couple of years producing lineman's gloves. He made the heavy duty rubber gloves needed by the men who worked for the electric company. These gloves protected them from the high voltage running through the wires overhead, running from pole to pole along every highway in the state and beyond. With his help I was hired in the packing shed a mile or two from the main plant.
The day I showed up in my sporty tan set of wheels, I pulled into the parking strip directly across the street from a gigantic quonset hut. For the next three months I was to come here to work and sweat in this aluminum oven. The double doors at each end remained open through all manner of weather, heat in summer and cold in winter. No air conditioning unit could keep this building cool so there were sprinklers outside atop the curving aluminum frame forming a long half metal cylinder set upon a concrete slab, half a block long. The metal cave became my home away from home for the next three months. Did that continuous flow of cooling water spouting from the sprinklers reduce the temperature in the cavern? Add to that the continuous river of sweat plastering our clothes to our bodies, I would have to say no. We were told constantly, "Talk your salt pills." These we got from dipensers on each wall near water fountains.
That first day I slammed on brakess, kicking up a spray of rocks and gravel covering the strip cleared for parking. I looked around as the dust settled. I was sixteen. I could see everyone else was old, mid to late twenties all of them. What am I in for, I asked myself closing the door with a solid thud.
"Hi," I said to the guy parked next to me. He looked at me over a hawk nose, his eyebrows knitted over dark eyes. His hair was raven black and slicked along the side of his head forming a DA in back.
"Hey," he answered back. His surly response I chalked up to the hour. It was seven AM.
"My first day," I said.
"Good for you."
We continued across the street.
"What's it like here?"
"It's a party," came his response. I let it go. Several concrete steps led to the entrance. We both took the steps two at a time. Inside the manager called me over.
"Rickey, come into my office for a minute. Let me give you the run down."
He was a middle aged man with greying hair and the start of a double chin reflecting the paunch above his belt. His manner was gruff as he began to talk.
"Your first day, eh? You'll like it here. Everybody is real friendly."
Yeah, I thought. I've met friendly.
"I know your dad really well, Rickey. It's because of him you got this job. You're only sixteen and we don't normally hire anyone under eighteen. You're a special case. He said you would be a hard worker and I don't want you to let him down. Know what I mean?"
"Yessir." My dad had said that? He hardly ever said anything to me. I had no idea he thought I would do a good job.
"Anyway, I wanted you to know that and welcome you aboard. Your job will be anything anyone asks you to do. We'll keep you away from the heavy machinery until you become accustomed to this work environment. Make sure you show up on time and give us a full days work and we'll get along fine. Now let's go out there and get you introduced."
He led me out into the open area to a crowd of people waiting at the clock to punch in.
"Alright, listen up everybody!" He proceeded to introduce me to everyone. There were about nine employees. He told me their names but being bad with names they flew into one ear and dribbled out the other. Everyone grumped hello. They turned to the clock which had just pinged and began to punch their cards.
"Here you go, Rickey. This is your time card. You must punch in and out or you don't get paid. Slip it into the slot like this, press down and it will stamp the time on it. There, it says seven-oh-three. You have five minutes to stamp in and out. And don't forget. If the card doesn't show times the finance office doesn't issue a check. This is important."
"Thank you, sir. I'll remember."
"Just put it in a slot here on the wall when you've stamped it. Now let me turn you over to my floor manager."
He led me to Mr. DA who provided a slight sneer with his hello.
Our boss left me in his hands and returned to his office.
"What size is your hand?"
"I'm sorry?"
"You want to work with gloves don't you?" he said, his sneer growing.
"I..I guess so, but I don't have any idea what size my hand is."
"That figures. Bringing in a child to do a man's work. Gimme your hand."
He grabbed my hand and grabbed a ruler from the desk. He lay the ruler across my palm.
"OK. It'll fit."
"What? What'll fit?" I asked completely mystified.
"Come with me." I followed him over to the corner where he reached into the shadows.
He grabbed aomething and slapped it into my hand. It was a broom.
"There," he said. "It fits perfectly. Now go sweep until I call you."
Walking to the middle aisle of this huge cavern I veiwed the acres of concrete floor to be swept.
"Oh yeah. You'll need this too." He tossed me a dustpan which I dropped with a clatter.
He shook his head then was gone.
From seven to twelve I swept the floor. I bumped into everyone there at least once. They were friendly enough but not overly talkative.
At twelve everyone stopped and walked to the break room for lunch. I walked out to my car. That was enough of that place for a few minutes. It was going to be a tough summer if today were any indication.
I rolled the windows down and opened the package of nabs I'd brought for lunch.
"Corvair, eh?" Mr. DA was leaning down looking at the interior.
"Yeah, '62 with floor shift."
"Pfft. A toy compared to my Chevy."
"It does pretty good for a rear engine." I had to defend my ride.
"What year's that thing?"
"'58 V-8. Race you any time."
"OK. Let's do it now."
"You kiddin'? That tin can couldn't hold a candle to this."
"Maybe but let's do it. Right here. Right now."
"Alright, candyass. Hit the street."
I cranked my mother's car. The rear engine purred to life.
"You gonna crank it?" He yelled from his steering wheel.
"Yeah. It's running."
"Pfft, pansyass car." He cranked his. A gutteral roar poured from his engine with a turn of the key. He revved it several times. The mufflers weren't standard because the noise erupting from them brought everyone from the break room outside the hut. We had an audience.
The road running past the hut was straight narrow macadam two lane. He pointed down the street.
"We'll race to that point," he said punctuating his words with a blast of exhaust. It was a railroad cross bar about half a mile away.
"You got it." I didn't have a chance and I knew it but the challenge had been issued.
I slpped the floor shift into reverse and sprayed rocks under the car whipping into the right hand lane. A cloud of dust hid my opponnets car. A roar and deepening cloud of dust let loose his Chevy with a squeal when rubber met paved surface. He pulled along side of me in the opposite lane. The workers lined the side of the road laughing and pointing at the tan tin can.
"You ready!" he yelled above the V-8's roar.
"Hell yeah!" I shouted back.
"On three!" came the response.
Blue smoke poured from tires liquifying on pavement. The Chevy shot forward amidst a steady squawl of spinning tires. I floored mine and it whizzed forward. The smoke from his tires was blinding me but I held it steady and popped the clutch slamming the gearshift into second with a tiny squawk of tires. I glanced to the left to see a trail of rubber leading to the tail lights up front as I hit the clutch again and pulled the bar down into third. My tan can was grabbing road hitting fifty by the time I reached the tracks and pulled along side of him.
"Let's go again!" I yelled at him. "Let's turn around and go back!"
His laughter drowned out the gutteral purr of his V-8.
"LIne 'em up, Patsy!"
Once more we were side by side. Once more he yelled three. My hand flew to the shift nob as my foot slammed the clutch down and up with a tiny squeal of tire. Second popped, third popped and I was flying down the two lane watching his back lights disappear in smoke of peeling tires.
I hit the break and slid into the parking spot I'd left ten minutes before.
He was closing the door getting out as I switched off the ignition.
"Told you it was a good car," I boasted while stepping out of it.
"Beat you all to hell and back," he said with a laugh.
"Yeah, you did," I admitted. "Hell of a race though."
"It did get the blood pumping," he said putting his hand out. I grabbed it and we shook. I never took notice of his disdainful looks after that. It was just his natural look.
"HEY! You two! In my office!" The boss was yelling. There was no mistaking the look on his face. It was anger.
We got a real scolding in the office. Reckless endangerment! In front of his plant! He had a mind to call the cops! He wanted to suspend us!
My first day and here I was in the principal's office again. Suspension. My very first day.
But he calmed down after screaming for fifteen minutes. It was my first day after all and my dad's name came up somewhere in the tirade. We weren't punished but were warned about such craziness. If it every happened again we would be let go. It was simple.
I don't know why he carried on so. We certainly weren't going to do that again. It wasn't like it was a planned daily activity. It was spur of the moment.
When we emerged from the office everyone moved back to their work stations. My new buddy and I walked out suitably chastised. Our grins proved all was well.
Mr. DA slapped the broom back into my hand, smiling.
"Glad to see you know your place, buddy." The rest of the summer was a blast. I was never late and, Mr. DA was right, it was a party.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Where's Willie?

There was a place we called “The Green Monster” at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio Texas circa 1968. It was a very long building painted green. The new enlistee's welcome to the military was here.
We were raw recruits recently signed into Uncle Sam’s Air Force.  It was our first day and time to leave behind civilian status to step into the life of an Airmen.  We carelessly bopped along in a group to the large building affectionately known as “The Green Monster.”  Our Training Instructor (TI) led us to the front door.  We were urged in with a curt command of “Single File.”  Thus it began.
Inside the door was a long walkway.  To our left was a counter.  Behind the counter there were shelves with all manner of military clothing folded and piled high.  We had no time to marvel at the long line of shelves or the length of the building we had just entered.  At the very start of our parade through, we were told to halt.  All of us came to a civilian’s stop.  We were told to face the counter and then one word rang through the length of the building.  
We all looked at one another with mirth on our faces.  I know I was thinking, “That’s funny.  They think we’re going to take our clothes off in the entrance of this building.”
Once again the command was bellowed into the ears of all of us unbelievers standing in the open door.
The TI was screaming this command at us.  One look at his face was enough.  
We shucked our clothes into a heap and stood with our hands crossing our groins.  This was the first time I noticed the cool breeze entering through the door.  There we were a line of young manhood standing butt naked in front a mile of counter space.  Several young bald recruits in starched fatigues began yelling at us from the business side of the counter.
Being raised in the South, I didn’t quite understand the question.  After all, I was standing Au Naturale, shivering in the cold. My mind was occupied with my present predicament of goose bumped flesh.
"I beg your pardon?" I asked. He looked at this pathetic face full of fear and astonishment, not to mention standing stark nekkid and covered in goose bumps from toe to tussled hair--now there's another story, when I had hair.
"I'm sorry?" I repeated.
"28" (Now there's another story, too. Let's' just say I'd be hard pressed to fit into those SKIVVIES now)
"RIGHT, MOVE ON!"  He screamed throwing my shorts across the counter.
They smacked into my face, then dropped abruptly to the floor. I was too astonished to lean over and pick them up. The guy behind me, wiser than I, since I was first in line and quite unaccustomed to the procedures in this new environment, pushed me forward. My skivvies were trampled under foot.  Being pushed forward in the line they were lost to me. At each section we halted and answered the demand 'SIZE!"
It was undershirts, shirts, pants, socks, shoes.
About this time we noticed that the men in charge of this parade of naked recruits piled high with clothing and shoes--two pair, combat boots and chukka boots--were being laughed at. One of the braver souls asked what they were laughing at.
Everyone in earshot dropped his bundle, rescued his SKIVVIES and immediately jumped into them.
"I gotta go back and get my SKIVVIES. They're on the floor at the front door."
His face was in mine all contorted and purple. His mouth spit into my terrified eyes as he peppered me with his salty words.
"I was breathing, sir."
"Sir, nothing, sir!"
His yelling startled me so much I pissed in my boot which I'd dropped in front of me. It was an act pretty much unbeknownst to me but quite apparent to everyone standing around me. Now anyone of them would probably have done the same thing if it had been them standing like a cement statue in front of that foam flecked mouth spitting words and particles of food into their faces. But it wasn't. If I'd been a Native American they'd have called me Piss-in-Boots, but I wasn't.  I was a lone frightened Southerner totin’ a wet boot.
Well, they laughed heartily and began to dress hurriedly shuffling along toward the open door. Beyond the door in the square were three flights of WAFS parked at parade rest with eyes front staring at the exit to the Green Monster.
I jumped into my pants and whipped the shirt on. I grabbed up my pile of clothes and hopped along on one combat booted foot trying to slip the other one onto the other foot. I succeeded with a splash.
“What the..?” I said out loud.  The laughter was louder.
Finally, I was covered head to toe when I was pushed beyond the confines of the huge green building.  We spilled out onto the walkways lined with white-washed rocks. We faced the parade ground in two lines. The stragglers were disgorged from the doorway.
Most of us made it to the breezeway suitably clothed, but there was one or two who stood in the breeze proudly displaying their manhood to the WAFS lining the walk. Proud they may have been at more fortuitous times, but they hadn't remembered how cold it was beyond the walls of the Green Monster. Their proud moment was obliterated by the full scale laughter and pointing fingers of those overcome WAFS falling out of formation to register their mirth.
"Where's Willie?" they belted the air with collapsing laughter.
Those few proud recruits in the buff thinking to impress our sisters in uniform dropped their load of clothes and yanked on their SKIVVIES! covering their cold morning air induced embarrassment.
Our TI walked through his crowd of fatigued misfits.  He stopped in front of us and made an abrupt about face.  He shook his head slowly as he looked at each one of us. We all came to haphazard attention at his command.
It was a promise and a threat.  It was six weeks of pure misery and fun.  It was the longest six weeks of my life and the shortest.  Oh, and the WAF’s?  Well, that’s another story entirely.
This happens to be the truth, give or take a lie or two.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Driving class 101

Clyde asked me to take a ride one night. I think I was 15 at the time. I had recently obtained my driver's license. Who knew where we would ride? It was always an adventure. Of course there was the ever present beer. At this particular time in my life, I did not drink. It would be another year or two before I could guzzle with the best of them.
I jumped in the car and asked, “Where’re we goin'?”
”Oh, I want to visit a girl and thought you might like to keep me company until we got there.”
”Sure,” I said. I thought I might learn something. Girls were definitely a new discovery for me and I needed all the help I could get in the fine art of wooing the ladies. He was a master, or at least, that was the rumor. This was a chance to observe technique.
We drove around for some time before arriving at her house. When we reached the area he didn't stop but circled the block three or four times. There had to be a reason for this. Was it some kind of mating ritual with cars? I wondered. I decided to keep mental notes.
After the 4th time we pulled into the driveway. He beeped the horn and got out.
Leaning through the window he said, “Stay here. I'll be right back.”
She came to the door and opened the screen. He ran inside. The screen door slammed behind him. They spoke in the light of the doorway. He opened the door and walked quickly to the car.  He poked his head the window and said,” Look, Rick. I need you to look out for me. Her dad will be back in about 30 minutes in a green Ford. I want you to watch for him. The minute you see him, beep this horn. Got it?”
”I thought I was coming in?”
”Hell no, you have to watch out for him.”
”Because he hates me. He said if I was ever over here again, he'd shoot my ass.”
”Is that why you drove past the house so many times?”
”Yes. She told me he wouldn't be home but I had to be sure and I wasted a good 20 minutes. So, you ok with this? You understand why I want you to watch out for me?”
”No, I'm not ok with it.”
”Tell you what. You do this for me and I'll let you drive my car some time, all right?”
Driving his car was a big deal.  It was a '56 Ford, black and red with a hot engine. Well, yeah, that was a deal for a young buck like me.
”OK. You won't be long will you?”
”As long as it takes," His crooked smile turning to a laugh.
”I don’t have much choice, do I?”
"No, not really."
He went back into the house. This time they closed the door and lowered the lights
I sat there looking around at every direction. I'd see any car's approach. Headlights came across the lawn. I looked at the headlights and realized that it was dark. How the hell was I supposed to tell if it was a green Ford or even a Ford for that matter?
BEEP! BEEP!! BEEEEEPPP!!!!! I leaned on the horn with all my body’s weight.
Slam! Out the front door he came running. He stopped. He looked around. The road was empty. The car had passed us by.
”What the hell are you doin'? You scared the crap out of me.”
”It's dark, Clyde! I can't tell color or make of car. What am I supposed to do?”
”Look over there.”   He pointed up the road beyond the house. “ See that corner?”
”See the light?”
”That's where he'll be just before he turns to come home. Got it?’
”Yeah. I'll beep the horn when I see him at the corner. You sure you don't want to leave now?”
“Hell, no. One day you'll understand.”
He returned to the house. I returned to my vigil.  I started thinking about what a mess we could be in.  He said he’d shoot him.  That meant he’d shoot me too.  What if he had a gun in the car with him? What if he recognized the car and gave chase? It's a helluva car to chase.
This baby would probably out run any old green Ford. What is there to worry about?
My thoughts went from anxious to confident.
My eyes began to close. I'd blink sit up straight and look around. Nothing. began. My eyelids began to grow really heavy. I jumped awake. Still nothing. Then, I slept.
I was awakened by the slam of the screen door and Clyde's screaming orders.
 “Get over into the driver's side. Crank it up!”  He tripped on his belt. “Get it started! Get it started! He's just got to the corner! You're supposed to be watching!! Hurry up!" He jumped into the passenger side as I got it cranked. It roared to life. I looked at the corner I was supposed to keep an eye on. The green Ford was there, just making the turn for the house.
”What are you waiting for? Get the hell outta here!!”
I slammed it into reverse and hit the gas pedal. The car bucked backward. I slid forward and my foot jammed into the accelerator. The car spun wheels, tearing backwards. In fright, I took my foot off the pedal. The engine stopped. I slid backwards into the seat.
Clyde started yelling.  “What the hell are you doing? Get us out of here!”
”The seat's all the way back. I can't reach the pedals.”
He reached over with his foot and slammed it to the floor. The car bucked backward again and I slid forward my foot slamming into his.
”OWWW!!” He screamed and pulled his foot away. The car stopped in its tracks again. I slid backward into the seat.
”Stomp the accelerator! Stop playing around!” He yelled, while nursing his foot.
The green Ford was halfway down the road and picking up speed. I pulled myself forward by the steering wheel and jammed my foot to the floor again. I held on to the wheel as the car peeled backward in a spray of rocks and gravel. The tires caught at the road and burned rubber all the way across into a mailbox. It snapped. I took my foot off the accelerator and the car stopped just over the mailbox and short of the ditch.
”Turn the wheel!!! Turn the wheel!!! Get us out of here!”
The green Ford was slowing to turn heading for us. I turned the wheel hard to the right and pulled myself forward kicking in the pedal again. The car fishtailed around in a semicircle and came to a halt once more. I was sweatin' bullets trying to keep myself from sliding all over the leather seat. The green Ford turned down the street and started toward us.
I pulled myself forward one last time. Jaws clenched I slammed my foot to the floor and held onto the wheel for dear life. I left a streak of tire and a cloud of misty rubber behind me. We made the end of the road a lot faster than we had upon arriving. I whipped around the corner almost sliding into another mailbox, straightened it out and headed on.
All Clyde could say was, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, jes…”
I looked into the rearview. There was nothing but darkness. We made it.
”Jesus, what the hell was all that? I think I pissed my pants.”
It was my turn to laugh. "Mwahahahahah!" It was an evil laugh as I floored it. We screeched into high gear as I looked intently down the road in the dark.
That was my first real driving lesson. Clyde was not impressed with the learning curve I exhibited. As a matter of fact he never let me behind the sterring wheel again.
The girl? He saw her again the next night. He didn't ask me along, though. I think, knowing the routine, I could have ridden that bucking' bronco much better.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Mummy, PLEASE!!

The floorboards, worn by generations of feet, lay before me along the aisles dividing showcases filled with articles of the past. I ran through the open doors. My feet were answered by heavy squeaks from the ancient boards beneath them. I looked inside eagerly. A couple of people were at the back of the building pointing and murmering undistinguishable words. My eyes darted left, then right. Where to start?
"Rickey!" It was my mother calling. She needed help with my cousin's stroller. He loved the Charleston Museum as much as I did. The stairs were a challenge to a stroller but we managed. My cousin looked up along the columns to the roof of the portico so far above the heads of six year olds.
"So tall," he said.
"Yeah," I said. "Let's get inside and see the mummy."
"Yeah, the mummy," he said.
My mother pushed the stroller over the threshold and we entered a silent world interrupted by echoes of soft voices gathered around showcases. The air was alive with the dust of ages, moats in sunbeams, as we broke into this bastion of time honored relics. Above us floated the bones of a whale killed off the coast of Charleston. Held together by wire we saw the frame of the behemoth aloft. We moved slowly beheath, eyes riveted upon each rib and spinal bone. Such a creature, so big, once a living being swimming in the depths of the ocean which lapped the shores of our beaches. We both ambled below in complete awe.
"How heavy do you s'pose it is?" asked my cousin.
"Coupla tons," I said.
"Think we better get out from under it?" he asked my mother who controlled his mobility.
"Well, where do you want to start?" she asked not hearing his anxiety.
He relaxed once we were out from under the whale's skeleton.
"The mummy!" we both shouted. Our voices enlivened the open room with echoes. Frowns from the other visitors shushed us. Sheepishly, we looked at my mother and whispered, "The mummy, Please."
We strolled past the patrons and their displeasure at our youthful exuberance. My mother offered an apology as we walked by them. Seen and not heard, that was the rule when we were children. We obeyed as best we could but at times our child's enthusiasm overcame the rules.
The huge aisle separated glass cases on either side. On view behind the glass was a diorama painted on the wall behind whatever might be on display. Stuffed animals were placed in front of the painted backgrounds to place them in their habitat. Below outside the glass were placques with information about each specimen. We would take more time with those on the way back to the entrance. First we had to reach the Egyptian room at the back.
Onthe back wall was a new sign. There was a dark alley way leading deep into the rear of the museum. It was lined with glass cages. The sign at the opening said "LIVE SNAKES." It wasn't there on our last visit.
"Can I go see?" I yelled. My voice was once again reverberated throughout the huge open space of the building. Once more looks of disapproval turned to me.
"Shhh. Yes, go, look." I had forgotten my cousin. He wasn't able to see them since he was confined to his stroller and too heavy for my mother to lift and hold for long. My enthusiasm for live snakes knocked all else from my mind. A board about a foot above the floor ran along the wall allowing short people, kids because all kids love snakes, to step up to see more closely. Up I went. There they were amongst the leaves and branches placed in the spaces to give some semblance to their habitat. Slowly sliding along the branch was a black snake tongue flitting out as his head slowly turned to eye me. He froze. I moved on to the next. Amongst the brown of leaves I saw nothing but watched a while. Of a sudden, movement caught my eye and a copperhead slithered slowly from beneath a pile of parting leaves. His tongue darted toward me and I jumped back and fell with a loud thump.
"Are you alright?" yelled my cousin.
"Yeah, scared me! It's a copperhead and he rushed out at me! Good thing that glass is between us."
"How big is he?"
That's when I remembered he wouldn't be able to see these live specimens. "He's big. And scary," I added.
"What else is there? Can you tell me about them?"
"I'll try," I said stepping up on the platform again. I side stepped along the rail. At each one I read the information on the placque as best I could.
"I don't know what that means," he said.
"How about we look 'em up in the 'cyclopedia when we get home? I think I can remember what they look like so's we can see pictures of 'em."
"OK. I like that."
I continued around telling him what the inside of the glass cages looked like. He was wrapped up in my words as he pictured the reptiles in his mind. The poisonous ones held our attention more than the garden variety. I heard one year that one of them escaped and they closed down the live exhibit of snakes, dangerous and nondangerous, after that.
My tour of the snakes over I jumped down to the floor and we continued on to the area housing the Egyptian mummy. An old dried form in grey bandages, deeply aged, lay beneath a glass encasement. A portion of the bandages was cut away revealing teeth protruding from old leather stretched tight across hills and valleys of cheek and jawbone. The eyelids were sunken into the eye sockets. Days earlier we had watched the Boris Karloff movie, THE MUMMY, which infused itself into the spectre before us. I saw it, then my cousin saw it. Those dry shrunken eyelids began to move in closed time. We looked at each other then my mother who was looking on with indifference. My cousin and I could not believe she was not aware of the transformation before us. We were paralyzed, hopelessly rooted to the spot, while beneath the glass eyelids shriveled back revealing cavernous sockets in a leatherbound skull turning in rhythm to our heart beats. Our hearts began to beat so loud and so fast the echoes in the great hall had all heads turning toward us with looks of anger at our filling their day with more noise. The mummy lurched ever so slowly to a sitting position. The other museum patrons turned slowly with eyes burning red in anger. We looked at each other, screams clawing upward inside our bodies roaring to be let loose in unison.
"You boys finished looking at the mummy," asked my mother.
"Huh?" we said. Inside the case the mummy lay still as it had for a thousand years. Looking around the other visitors were casually strolling between the displays paying us no mind. Their talk was low and respectful of the collections all around.
"Um, mommy, please, could we go?" I asked. My voice was shakey as leaned on the glass case for support. Realizing whose case it was I jumped back.
"What? Already? You boys always love this place. We've barely begun."
"I know but I'm ready to leave."
"Me too," said my cousin looking at the dessicated form below the glass. "I'm ready too."
"That's awfully strange," she said. "I've never known you two to come here for less than two hours. OK. If that's what you want."
"We do!" we shouted together.
As we hurried to the front entrance I could have sworn I heard movemnt behind me. A step then a dragging sound, a step, drag... I hurried my pace looking back. There was nothing but sunlight streaming through the windows with the dust of ages floating within. The whale carcass overhead went unnoticed as we hurried out into the fresh air of a sunny day.
"Can we get ice cream?" we both asked.
"Of course," my mother said.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Red, like the Devil...

"You got a quarter?" he asked. My neighbor behind us had only recently moved to Charleston. His dad was in the navy and they had been everywhere.
"Why? Whatcha need a quarter for?" I'd just gotten my allowance on the weekend. I held onto my quarters. One quarter bought one arrow at Silver's, the five and dime on King Street. Maybe once amonth my mom would drive to town to shop. I went with a pocketful of quarters to add to my quiver. Sometimes, though, I'd keep one in my pocket to get a cocola and bag of peanuts, and a candy bar or two while riding my bike in the Terrace. It just so happened I did have one in my pocket.
"I thought we could get a pack of cigarettes," he said.
That sounded like a good idea. Recently they had stocked some new ones at the candy counter. They weren't the white sugar sticks with a red tip, they were chocolate sticks wrapped in cigarette papers with a filter tip.
"Yeah, I'd like to try a pack of those. Let's ride up to the drugstore. I know they have them there."
"I'm already on my way," he said pedaling up the drive. He turned onto the street as I got my bike turned. I ran along side to pick up momentum, then hopped into the seat like I'd seen Roy Rogers do with Trigger in so many shows. I stood on the pedals pumping hard to catch up with my friend. The wind blew past me. The spokes in my wheels thrummed the playing cards attached to the frame with clothes pins. The "engine" noise grew in volume as I sped up. The faster I pedalled the greater the roar. Everyone knew I was on the road. I smiled as women tending their gardens looked up to see what powerful machine was passing them by. I would smile and wave.
The back roads of the Terrace were a playground to all of us kids. A whole school full of baby boomers were enjoying their childhood there and I was one of them. We flew passed the houses of all my old friends. It was summer and they were with family on their summer vacation trips. My new friend, who raced with me on his bike, had only just moved to the house behind me. We'd become pals over the first few weeks of summer. His bike was really faster than mine but mine had the roar of a motorcycle.
The drugstore was on Maybank which, back then, was a two lane blacktop leading to Johns Island. It was more a country lane than the highway it has become. We weaved from one side to the other depending on which lane was occupied by a car. The traffic was so light that whichever lane we road in was clear without danger to us.
Reaching the drugstore, we jumped off, running beside our bikes, til we were clear of the large picture window. At that point we leaned the handle bars against the clapboards. I started in.
"Where are you going?" my frined asked.
"Inside to buy our cigarettes." My face questioned him. "Why?"
"No. I thought we'd get a pack from the machine."
The cigarette machine was everywhere. Need a pack? Drop a quarter in the slot, pull the rod below your brand, down drops a pack and change clinked into the opening beneath the slot. Anyone could use them. Kids weren't supposed to have access but it was easy to work it while the adults weren't watching.
"Huh?" My shock was quite eveident.
He laughed at me.
"Wow! You are a baby, aren't you?" He said amidst laughter.
'I'm too young to smoke," I said thinking back a few years to a cigar my dad made me finish. "I don't think that's a good idea."
"Oh, come on, ya big baby. Gimme the quarter."
"Why don't we just go get the chocolate ones? They have real cigarette paper around them."
"I don't want no baby's chocolate cigarettes. I want the real thing. It's about time you started breaking some rules, baby."
"I don't want any cigarettes," I said. I went into the story about the cigar years ago.
"Cigarettes ain't cigars, ya dope. Cigars are all tobacco. It's no wonder you got sick.
You gotta try these. It's different."
I looked toward the door thinking about tearing the cigarette paper from the chocolate sticks and munching away. He held out his hand. Reluctantly, I handed over the quarter.
"Got a special brand?" he asked dropping the coin in. "Go ahead and pull the rod. Pick the brand above it and pull it straight toward you."
I looked. My dad smoked Luckies. I tried that one but it was out. I liked the red package labeled Pall Mall and, besides, Lee Marvin on M Squad smoked them. I pulled the rod. the pack dropped into the tray built into the machine. I reached in and pulled out my first pack of real cigarettes. I owned them. I popped the pack into my shirt pocket. I stood a little taller. I wasn't a kid anymore.
We ran to our bikes. The man inside looked out at the clatter.
"Hey! You kids! Don't lean your bikes against the wall like that!" He yelled at us inside the door.
"Yeah! Yeah!" I yelled back in my new found rebellion. It was heady this new feeling. I'd done a grownup thing. I had a pack of real cigarettes in my pocket. I couldn't wait to get home. My bike roared up the highway as I leaned over the handlebars pumping the pedals for all I was worth. My buddy was left in the dust.
When he finally got to the house I was walking out, slamming the screen behind me, holding a book of matches in my hand.
"I found some matches," I said as he lay his bike on the ground.
It was a ceremony now. We walked to the back of the house as I pulled the plastic strip around the top of the pack. A rectangle of plastic slipped off trailing behind us. I tore the corner just like I'd seen my dad do, exposing the circles of brown tobacco outlined in thin paper.
"You gonna smoke 'em or look at 'em?"
I would have savored the moment a bit longer but he was impatient.
I tapped the end of the pack against my hand. Three cigarettes offered themselves. He took one, I took one, dropping the pack into my pocket. He placed his into his mouth being careful not to wet the paper with spit.
I placed mine carefully between my lips. Opening the matchbook I bent one forward and ripped it out. After several attempts my friend took it away. I stood with a blackened unlit stem in my hand. He removed one, held it against the rough strip with his thumb and pulled. Flame burst forth.
"How'd you do that?"
He smiled touching the flame to his cigarette. "Easy," he said in a cloud of blue smoke.
He showed me then lit mine. I pulled smoke into my mouth and blew it out. I pulled the cigarette from my mouth leaving a small patch of paper on my bottom lip.
"You sissy," he said. "You gotta inhale. You ain't really smokin' like that. You gotta breathe it into your lungs."
"Whatcha mean?"
"Here, watch." He demonstrated pulling the smoke deep into his lungs. He kept his mouth closed breathing a heavy cloud from his nose. I could tell, this guy had smoked before.
"OK. Lemme try it." I pulled a little into my mouth blowing it out.
He started laughing. "You still ain't doin' it right."
I tried again. This time I breathed in through my mouth and into my lungs. The coughing burst out of me like cannons going off. When the fit died down, I tried again taking in a little more.
The air was split with another coughing jag.
He laughed and laughed while I was dying.
Once more I inhaled three times the smoke from before. Now coughing was the least of my worries as the world began to spin. My heart began to race. My stomach began to ripple upward. I did cough again, violently, followed by my breakfast and anything else that had once been in my stomach. I was on my knees now, arms stretched in front palms in the slippery mess in the grass.
Laughter entered my ears as more yellow liquid exited my mouth. The world wouldn't quit spinning either. I stayed in that position for a while. My friend tiring of this, decided to go home. Now I was by myself under a blue sky and over a huge patch of yellow coated green grass.
When my system settled, I sat back. The feel of the mostly full pack of Pall Mall weighed my shirt down. I took the pack out to look at it. Red like the devil, I thought. Slowly and methodically I began to tear the pack and the cigarettes to bits. I got up with a woozy head. When I reached the house I leaned against the wall for a while. AS my legs gained strength I opened the door. With a screen slam behind me I wandered to my room and collapsed onto the bed. I'd had my adventure for the day.