Friday, April 29, 2011

Football Adventures

 When a boy grows up in Texas, he is exposed to the sport of football from the time he can walk. After he is walking and talking, the first two toys he usually receives are a gun and a football. I don't remember that far back, but I'm pretty sure it was the same with me. In my hometown, the dream of every little boy is to one day to be a star player for the Crockett Bulldogs.
Most little boys are playing tackle football without any pads by the time they are in the first grade. There is a game of football going on during recess at every elementary school in the state. In large towns, they had organized pee wee teams for kids in the fourth and fifth grades, but Crockett was too small for such programs. It wasn't until the sixth grade that a boy could go out for the football team. Like most of my friends, I could hardly wait.
For several years prior to entering the sixth grade, I suffered from asthma, and it wasn't until my freshman year in high school that I was getting over the problems. It didn't help any that I was allergic to just about every tree and variety of grass in East Texas, as well as a lot of common foods. Mother took me to a specialist in Tyler and he put me on a series of injections to combat my multiple allergies. Our general practitioner in Crockett, Dr. Goolsby, always told my mother I would probably grow out of it, and I eventually did. God only knows what kind of drugs I would have been given if I had grown up in the nineties. More than likely I would have no natural immunity to anything.
I had two things working against me when I went out for the sixth-grade football team. The first was the fact that I still suffered somewhat from the asthma and got winded easily. The second thing was I was already known as "the boy with asthma," which sealed my fate as far as ever being taken seriously as an athlete for the rest of my life in Crockett. Once you got a label with the coaches in Crockett it was yours forever, good or bad. The kids on the team were the same ones I grew up playing sports with and I could hold my own with them all, but I had a hard time even being allowed to practice at any position, much less get any serious consideration. I spent my time on the sidelines watching friends I played football with on the weekends start every game. The only attention at least half of the "unannointed" players such as myself got was to be told to get back on the bench by the coaches if we ventured to close to the sidelines to view the action. The starters got to stand between us and the field, so we had trouble even watching the game. At the end of the season I realized my place in the caste system of the coaching staff and decided it would be pointless to bother with it in the seventh grade.
The fact that I was doomed to never make the team in no way affected my love for the game or support for the high school team. As far back as I can remember I attended every home game and a lot of the away games of the Bulldogs. The entire town was focused on them each fall. It remains so today all over the state; especially in small towns where Friday night football is the main source of entertainment for the community. Local legends are created each year and are forever remembered.
The summer before my freshman year, John Mattox asked me if I was interested in being one of the trainers for the football team. He was a year older than me and had already committed to the job. The appeal of being a part of the team was too much to pass up, so I told him yes. We went on vacation in late August and I missed the first week of summer practices, but I reported for duty as soon as we got back to town. Charlie Christian had also joined up to become the third trainer, so we were fully staffed when I arrived.
Until my first day on the job, I never had a clue what the trainers actually did. Over the years I had seen the kids walking the sidelines during the games performing a variety of duties, most visibly taking water bottles to the huddle during time outs. It didn't appear to be that taxing and it looked like fun. I would get to go to all the games for free and travel with the team. What more could I want?
It was soon apparent the fun and excitement of the game made up about two percent of the job, with the remaining ninety-eight percent being hard, sweaty, stinky and for the most part thankless work. We got there before the players and made sure all the equipment was ready when practice began. Each player was issued all the equipment and uniform parts needed for practice, yet half of them would be missing something on a daily basis. When practice started and the players were on the field, we had to sweep and mop the entire field house. Unpaid janitors was a better description than trainer.  It would be the equivalent of training monkeys  not to crap in their hands and throw it at one another.  In other words, we didn't train anyone, ever.  For at least half of the season, the game field would be irrigated daily. In addition to everything else, we would have to take apart the long water pipes every half hour and move them over about twenty feet and put them back together. After turning the water back on, we would rush back to another job we had been in the middle of and try to complete it before we had to move the pipes again.
The practice uniforms were washed once a week, on Thursday evening. By then they were soaked with four days of sweat. The stench cannot be described by the written word. There were many times John and I were on the verge of hurling when we were taking the uniforms from the baskets and loading them into the large washing machines. Charlie Christian always seemed to be missing in action when any of the dirty work was being performed.
Each Thursday night there would be a junior varsity game while we were doing the laundry, so one of us had to serve as the sideline trainer while the other two worked in the field house. Needless to say, we spent more hours there than anyone else, including the coaches. John and I each had a key since we were the first ones in the door and the last ones out. On Saturday mornings we were at the field house early to wash the game uniforms from the night before. We would spend four or five hours working while the players were at the barber shop or the Dairy Queen telling tales of their heroics.
The Crockett Bulldogs went through the sixties with a winning record each year, or at least all the seasons I am aware of. When I was in junior high school, Monte Jack Driskell became the head coach. He spent several years as the head coach in Groveton, Texas, which is about twenty-five miles from Crockett. The population of Groveton is much less than Crockett, and in most cases they were unable to compete, successfully, head to head with us. During the years Coach Driskell spent in Groveton his teams gave several superior Crockett teams all they could handle. This no doubt led to him getting the job in Crockett when it came open.
When my first season as manager got underway in the fall of nineteen sixty-seven, the expectations were high. Texas Football Magazine had us ranked fifth in the state before play began. Everyone was cocky and confident. Our first game was at home against Navasota. They kicked our ass and injured two of our starters and shocked everyone into reality. They beat us by one point, but we considered it an ass kicking.
Win or lose, our workload never changed. Since none of us had any previous experience as equipment managers and trainers, we were just wandering around the first few weeks trying not to screw things up. We were holding our own, mostly due to blind luck.
The second week we traveled twenty-five miles to Elkhart. It was a very small town that in most cases we would have beaten 60-0 and cleared the bench by the third quarter. We beat them 15-6, which to us was an embarrassment.
As equipment managers, we were responsible for everything that was transported to an out-of-town game. We had extras of everything. The Elkhart game was our first test and we didn't make any big errors. Just before we left Coach Driskell came to us and said the Bulldogs were going to be wearing the home blue jerseys for the game. It seemed the Elkhart managers had left their jerseys in the dryer too long after their first game and burned them up, so they needed to borrow our white jerseys for the game. John and I just looked at each other and said nothing. We had almost done the same thing on several occasions and could have easily turned ours into cinders. A coach from Elkhart had driven down earlier in the day and picked them up.
On Saturday morning John and I were at the field house washing all the game uniforms, including the white jerseys that had been worn the night before by the Elkhart Elks.
We had only washed game uniforms one other time, and the jerseys and pants had all been dark blue. We didn't know squat about washing clothes, but we did realize that it wouldn't be smart to bleach them. The second week we had a load of white jerseys to deal with at the same time. The next week we were traveling to Gladewater, so we had to wash the white jerseys right away. The home jerseys could wait a couple of days. We promptly threw the blue pants in the two machines along with the white jerseys, filled them with scalding hot water and went out to move the sprinklers. The machines weren't on any kind of timer, so they would run until we stopped them. The same was true of the dryer. After moving the sprinklers we locked the field house and walked over to Corbitt's Grocery for some junk food. The white jerseys and blue pants spent about an hour swishing in the hot water before we returned. When we removed them from the machine something was definitely different. The jerseys that went in white were now baby blue. We were panicked.
With five home games and five away games during the regular season each set of jerseys would get washed at least five times; more if the team made the playoffs. John and I washed the white jerseys five more times that afternoon, and we bleached the hell out of every load. They were still heavily tinted. We came back on Sunday afternoon and washed and bleached them several more times. They were starting to look better after going through two years worth of washings in two days. We decided we had done all we could without turning them into white bath towels with blue numbers. We tried to convince ourselves all was well and nobody would ever know.
The following Friday night we were in Gladewater. The lighting was poor in their dressing room, so for the time being nobody noticed anything. Once the players took the field for warm ups it was a different story. Players were starting to ask one another if their jersey looked strange. Gladewater had just installed new lights in the stadium that cast a blue hue on everything. Coach Driskell called John over and asked him if the jerseys looked blue to him. John immediately blamed it on the lights. Coach Driskell was too focused on game preparation to press the issue. A lot of the players were asking us what in the hell we had done to their jerseys. They weren't buying the stadium lighting theory. Gladewater beat us 19-13 in a heated game, so the jersey problem wasn't talked about again. We were traveling again the next week, so another five or six more long wash and bleach cycles and nobody ever knew the difference. We admitted it the next season.
We only had one more mishap that season. The next Friday we traveled to Marlin. John and I were determined to have everything run smoothly after the issue with the white jerseys. We packed even more supplies than usual. One of the items that was always a big priority was the medicine kit. It was a huge case containing all of our first aid supplies and athletic tape as well as repair parts for helmets, shoes and other accessories. We paid special attention to it at all times.
Marlin was nearly one hundred miles away, so the team bus left a couple of hours earlier than it normally would. The medicine kit was packed and ready to load into the team station wagon that Charlie Christian was to drive behind the team bus. John and I both told Charlie to be sure it wasn’t forgotten..
We stopped at a restaurant when we first got to Marlin to drink a Coke and rest from the long bus ride. As soon as the bus rolled to a stop someone asked John for an aspirin. As the team was walking into the restaurant John was digging through the car looking for the medicine kit. It wasn't there. He yelled for me and we began searching the bus without success. We found Charlie and asked him where it was. He said, "I thought one of you were going to get it."
Coach Driskell was very focused on game day and didn't like any distractions or problems of any kind. He was sitting in a booth going over the game plan when John walked up to him looking sheepish and guilty. Coach Driskell looked up and asked if there was a problem. John said, "We left the medicine kit in Crockett."
Coach Driskell looked like he could kill both of us. His only statement was, "Well no shit!" Charlie had conveniently disappeared. He kept his cool and told one of the assistant coaches to ask the Marlin coach for some supplies when we got to the stadium. After Marlin beat us 15-13 and our backup quarterback had to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance, the medicine kit incident was forgotten.
The season ended with the Bulldogs winning district and bi-district before getting pounded by Kountze in the regional championship game. John and I spent more hours at the field house and worked harder than any of the previous equipment managers had done, so Coach Driskell decided we were worth our salt.
The next season we knew our jobs and had everything under control. It was also one of those seasons we would never forget. The Bulldogs went 9-1. We had won nine straight going into the final home game. We played Lufkin Dunbar High School for the district championship. They were 9-0 as well. We lost the game and our season was over. Coach Driskell was so devastated he didn't come back to school for a week.
When the last game was over each season, the players would clean out their lockers and were free to finally go home after school or otherwise spend their free time elsewhere. The coaches would be required to start actually paying attention to their duties as school teachers. John and I would spend another three or four weeks at the field house after school taking inventory, cleaning, washing and getting things ready for the next season.
My third year as equipment manager brought about a lot of changes. After many years of having two separate school districts, the Crockett school system was finally integrated. Ralph Bunche High School had the newer and bigger building, so our high school was done away with and we all moved out to the new facility. Neither student body wanted the change, so nobody but the federal judge in Tyler was happy about it. Whenever a decision was made, at least half the students opposed it. The name of the high school became Davy Crockett High School, so the Ralph Bunche students were pissed off. Coach Driskell was named head coach and athletic director. Coach Andrew Hopkins was the former head coach of the Ralph Bunche Lions and became the assistant head coach of the Crockett Bulldogs. It virtually guaranteed that each time our team took the field, at least half the students were actively supporting the other team. It was a tense situation.
When the focus is supposed to be on winning football games, all the distractions didn't help. Someone was always bitching about something and the family atmosphere of old was no longer there. While the school itself was having a lot of problems with fighting, our coaches at least kept that under control. Unlike the politically correct lawyer-driven atmosphere today, the situation was dealt with quickly. Any small infraction that occurred in the normal heat of practice went largely ignored, but a major fight wasn't. Coach Driskell or one of the assistant coaches would take the offenders in the office and paddle the crap out of them. It didn't take many sessions like that to settle things down.
In those days it was normal for every male to carry a pocket knife of some kind on his person at all times. After the schools integrated, it became an object of concern among the coaches and faculty members. No weapons were ever used in an altercation that I know of, but verbal threats of violence were thrown around liberally. Coach Driskell told everyone a couple of times to stop bringing knives to school, and having them at the field house would not be tolerated. Given the tension in the air on a daily basis, I chose to ignore the request, as I figured everyone else would. Before practice one afternoon, Coach Driskell walked into the dressing room with the other coaches and searched each locker after the players were dressed in their practice uniforms. Unbelievably not a single knife was found on anyone. John and I were in the laundry room and didn't know about the search.
The players took the field before John and I left the laundry room. We were sweeping and mopping the office when Coach Driskell and Coach Hampton walked in. Partly as a joke Coach Hampton said, "We forgot to search the managers for weapons." I looked like a deer in headlights. Coach Driskell said, "Boys, empty those pockets."
I owned an impressive collection of knives. That particular day I had the biggest one in my pocket. I slowly pulled it out and placed it one the desk. Since we had all been warned a couple of times before, I was pretty sure there were going to be some official consequences attached to any infraction. The look on the faces of both coaches was priceless. I was probably the last person they expected to find armed and dangerous.
Coach Driskell looked me right in the eye and I started to cower. He picked up the huge pocket knife and said, "How do you write with a pen this size? Take this thing home and don't ever bring it back." I think my knees may have buckled just a little bit. He probably knew how hard it would be to find anyone else who worked as hard as John and I did. People that dumb and gullible are hard to find. I swore to myself I wouldn't do anything to attract attention to myself again. I was wrong.
About fifty feet behind the field house was a fifty-five-gallon barrel we used to burn trash. When it filled up with ashes, the maintenance men would haul it away and bring us an empty one. Every couple of days, we filled it with paper from the trash cans as well as wood scraps and cardboard. That combination resulted in a very hot fire. Early in the season when the weather was hot, everyone would go out of their way to avoid the barrel. As the weather turned colder later in the year, things changed. We usually started the fire at the end of practice when the players were leaving. It would be dark, cold and humid. After getting it started, John and I would walk back out to the barrel and toss in more trash from time to time. The sight of one of us going out to the barrel went unnoticed by everyone.
One evening it was particularly cold when I lit the fire. The barrel had been replaced the week before, so it was relatively ash free. A wooden stand had broken in the office and Coach Driskell told me to burn it. I had a lot of cardboard stuffed into the barrel as well as some paper. In other words, it was going to be a big fire. I love fire. I made sure it was going good and went back inside. A few minutes later I looked outside to check on it. It was roaring by then. John found a couple of cardboard boxes and took them out to the can.
The next time I checked, a small crowd of players had gathered around the fire. It was getting colder and the heat was a welcome relief. It was too hot for them to get closer than four or five feet. As luck would have it, I was holding a large can of Tuff Skin. It was an aerosol substance used to spray on an ankle or knee before applying athletic tape. It was about ninety-percent alcohol and very flammable. It was a new can and it was completely full. The nozzle was broken when I took it out of the case, and I was about to throw it in the box that contained items that wouldn't burn in the barrel. The crowd around the barrel gave me another idea.
I told John my plan, and naturally he said, "I'll bet you a Coke you won't do that." Bruce Bennett walked up about that time and dared me. It was time to act.
John and I both had taken something to the fire several times since I first started it, so nobody even noticed when I walked up with a couple pieces of cardboard. In the center of it was the aerosol bomb. I tossed it into the middle of the barrel and walked away. I had just enough time to get back to the door and join Bruce and John. There were six or seven players with their backs to the barrel taking in the warmth of the fire. Just after I turned around there was a tremendous explosion. I had no idea the can would have that much power. It blew fire and trash twenty feet into the air in the shape of a mushroom cloud. Kids were yelling, cussing and hauling ass in all directions. It had clearly scared them all. A couple had some small cinders in their hair. Players close by put out the little hair fires. People had been too shocked and stunned to even think about what might have caused it. John, Bruce and I stomped out some of the small patches of burning grass.
Word of the blast reached Coach Driskell after a few minutes. He rounded the corner and saw we had things under control. He did ask what happened, but when he saw the look of guilt on my face, I think he decided he didn't really want to know the answer.
In spite of all the trouble, we ended up playing for the district championship the last game of the season. We again faced Lufkin Dunbar. They beat us convincingly, but we were closer to being a team than at the start of the season.
My fourth year I was sort of on my own. John had graduated and was at Texas A&M. Smitty Dean had been a manager with us the previous year, but he elected to spend his senior year at a private academy in San Marcus, Texas. For some stupid reason, he wanted to finish with a real education. Crockett had been placed in a new district with bigger schools from the Houston area, so we weren't given a chance. As usual we played the final game for the district championship. Like the previous two years, we lost.
At the athletic banquet my senior year, Coach Driskell presented me with my fourth letter for being equipment manager. He had me stand and told me how much he appreciated all the hard work and the long hours I had put in. I almost cried. I suddenly felt the four years had all been worth it. A lot of the players told me the same thing after the ceremony. Maybe I had been one of the Crockett Bulldogs after all.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

John Harold and the Cats

 John Harold Allen was and still is one the nicest and most easygoing people I will ever know. He is over six feet tall with a stocky build. To look at him one would never think he would be afraid of any man or domesticated animal. Wrong! When I think of a snake it sends shivers up and down my spine. John Harold would get the same feeling when he encountered the sneakiest and most worthless of any species: the cat. As a result the rest of his "good friends" never passed on an opportunity to arrange a meeting between John Harold and an unsuspecting cat.
During our sophomore year at Stephen F. Austin Paul and I shared a trailer while John Harold, Eugene and Charlie rented one in another trailer park a few miles away. We saw them almost daily and stopped by their trailer several times a week. With the three of them under one roof something was always going on.
I remember driving up one day to discover Eugene and Charlie laughing uncontrollably. John Harold was cussing and threatening them. The evening before Eugene had grabbed a neighborhood cat that happened to be strolling by and took it inside the trailer. Naturally John Harold was disturbed when Eugene walked through the door holding a cat. Eugene stroked the cat and said he had found them a new pet. John Harold told him there was no way in hell they were going to have a cat. Eugene kept it up for half an hour just to irritate him. He would take the cat to the door like he was going to put it out, only to change his mind and bring it back inside. John Harold was getting more nervous and upset by the second. Eugene finally put the cat out, but he said he might go get it again after John Harold went to bed. John Harold finally went to bed with Eugene and Charlie threatening to go get the cat.
Early the next morning Charlie got the water hose from behind the trailer and brought it inside. He managed to push one end under the couch where John Harold slept without waking him up. It was a two bedroom tornado magnet, so John Harold slept on the couch, which was at least a foot too short. He took the other end of the hose down the hall and into his bedroom. He began making weird cat noises into the end of the hose. The noises coming from under John Harold's bed were strange to say the least. It took a couple of minutes for him to wake up. Charlie and Eugene weren't sure what his reaction would be. Eugene was in the hallway trying to sneak a peak. About the time he was close enough to see into the bedroom the door flew open and John Harold came running out at top speed with a wild look on his face. Eugene jumped back and avoided a collision. John Harold continued his escape and went out the  door and into the yard. Eugene followed him out, asking him what was wrong.
John Harold was still wild eyed and shaking. He yelled, "May, I'm going to kill you! That damn cat is having kittens under my bed!"
Charlie came to the door and asked what was going on. John Harold told him about the cat having kittens under the couch. Charlie asked John Harold to show him, but John Harold refused to go back in there until the cat and the kittens were thrown out. After a few minutes they finally coaxed him back in the trailer. Only then did John Harold notice the water hose running through the door and under the couch. He glared at them and made a few threats, then returned to his room.
The following fall Paul transferred to Texas A&M. Eugene, Charlie, John Harold and I rented an apartment together within easy walking distance of the campus. There were two bedrooms. John Harold and I shared a room. After living with Eugene and Charlie for two semesters he didn't want to room with either of them.
For the first three or four weeks John Harold caught a break. We were all busy getting used to our classes, and with our varying schedules we didn't see one another much except at night. The apartment manager and his wife lived in the apartment below us, so for a little while we tried to take it easy and not get off on the wrong foot with them.
When we first moved in we went down the street to Krogers for some groceries. The store was located at the bottom of a hill and we were parked at the top of the lot. We bought our usual supply of Mission Cola and TV dinners. We unloaded our stash into Eugene's car and then argued over who would take the cart back down the hill to the store. The cart corrals were all near the front of the building. As we were discussing it, the cart started rolling down the hill on its own. There were no cars in the immediate path. We watched as it sped down the hill, hoping to see it crash into the side of the store. Three-quarters of the way it took a turn to the right and headed straight for the one car in the immediate vicinity. Just as the cart slammed squarely into the driver's door we jumped into our car and sped away.
Misson Cola was so cheap it became one of the staples of our diet. We had a large bare wall in the dining room of the apartment. Immediately after moving in someone decided to start stacking the empty cans along the base of the wall in the dining room. We all followed suit, and in no time there was an impressive tin-can wall starting to form. We all started drinking more colas just to have more cans to put on the wall. Before we had been there a month the wall was completely covered with cans. We began to notice people stopping outside of our window and staring at our can tin-can mountain.
One evening after the wall had been filled up the apartment manager came to our door to complain about noise. That particular night we had no idea what he was whining about. We hadn't been playing music and the television wasn't on. Eugene answered the door, and for some reason he was in a bad mood. The manager started to bitch when Eugene cut him off and told him we weren't doing a thing, and he had better leave us alone. The manager noticed the wall of cans and asked him what it was. Eugene said, "It's a bunch of tin cans! What in the hell does it look like?" The manager nervously walked away.
A few minutes later we filled the oven with a variety of TV dinners for supper. Shortly afterward smoke began to pour from the oven and fill the apartment. John Harold had forgotten to take his dinner out of the cardboard box and it was on fire. It was pulled out of the oven and the flames extinguished. Things then returned to normal.
When the dinners were done we all cracked open a can of Mission Cola and sat around the table to eat. John Harold was sitting in front of the wall of cans. After a few minutes he yawned and stretched his arms above his head and backward. He accidentally dislodged one can and it hit the floor beside his chair. We all looked up to see what would happen next. Slowly at first, one can after another began to fall from the top of the stack near the ceiling and crash to the floor. After a minute they began to fall more rapidly, then finally they fell in large groups. The last thirty seconds produced some loud crashes.
Ten seconds after the last can hit the floor the apartment manager was banging on our door. Eugene opened it and glared at him. He looked past Eugene and saw the rest of us sitting at the table eating supper with tin cans piled all around us. Before he could get out a complaint Eugene got in his face and asked, "Didn't we give you our phone number?"
As Eugene crowded him even more he said, "Yes, I have it."
Eugene scowled and said, "If you have anything to say to us you can use the phone. I don't want to see you up here!"
The manager slinked out the door and down the stairs. He never complained to us again.
John Harold probably thought his days of feline torment were over. Charlie and Eugene seemed to be too busy to bother him, and I never liked cats either. That all changed one night when I returned from the library.
I opened the door and saw Charlie carrying a large cat down the hall toward the room I shared with John Harold. He looked back in shock until he saw it was me. He had been walking across the parking lot when he spotted a cat. He grabbed it and was about to toss it in our bedroom. I wasn't crazy about having a strange cat in my room, but knowing it would freak out John Harold made it worth it.
Eugene got home about that time. We all sat down and waited for John Harold to return. The cat was roaming around the room and would occasionally scratch on the door and meow loudly. It was getting more upset by the minute. I hoped it wouldn't crap on anything; especially anything of mine.
John Harold walked in with an armload of books. We were all watching as he walked down the hall. The door to the bedroom was normally left open, so when he found it closed he looked back suspiciously. "There better not be a cat in here!" he said.
When he opened the door the frightened the cat screamed and flew by him. John Harold yelled and jumped straight up in the air. Luckily Charlie had opened the front door a couple of seconds before John Harold opened the bedroom door. The cat sped past us and out the door. It almost didn't make the turn on the balcony.
John Harold came stomping out and he was as mad as a hornet. I didn't say a word as he started in on Eugene and Charlie. Since we roomed together I didn't want him to know I knew anything about it.
With a final threat he went back to his car to bring in some groceries. Eugene walked to the door as John Harold went down the stairs. I heard Eugene say, "I can't believe it!" Then he came back inside carrying another cat!
Since John Harold was still mad, Eugene didn't want to risk getting his ass kicked. He asked me to get John Harold to go with me to Shipley's Doughnuts while he decided what to do with the cat. I met John Harold in the parking lot and said I was going to get some doughnuts. John Harold would never turn down an invitation to the doughnut shop. I didn't know what the plan was, but I knew it would be a good one.
John Harold and I spent the next hour at Shipley’s eating doughnuts and listening to the jukebox. He spent quite a bit of the time bitching about Eugene and Charlie starting up with the cats again and what he ought to do to them. He had been up since early that morning and was ready to get back to the apartment and go to bed.
I was a little hesitant to open the door when we arrived at the apartment, but things seemed to be pretty much back to normal. Charlie and Eugene were watching tv and didn't even look up when we walked in. John Harold said he was going to bed. He went into our room and shut the door. Five minutes later he was snoring.
As soon as he shut the door I asked, "What did you do with the cat?"
Eugene said, "I put the cat out half an hour ago. Let John Harold sleep about an hour and then we will scare the shit out of him." He wouldn't give me more details.
We finished watching the Cowboys and Redskins on Monday Night Football. Eugene reached under the couch and pulled out an eight-track tape. He and Charlie started laughing and finally let me in on the joke.
John Harold had a state-of-the-art eight-track tape player and recorder set up in our room. He had speakers positioned in all four corners, and when the volume was very much above the lowest setting it would produce enough sound to bring the apartment manager running and possibly the police. It would record better than anything the rest of us had, and the sound quality was excellent.
As soon as we had left for the doughnut shop Eugene brought the second cat into the apartment. When the cat realized it was in a confined area and couldn't escape it became very vocal. That gave him an idea.
While Eugene was on cat control duty Charlie found a blank tape and put in John Harold's eight-track. He hooked up the dual microphones and put them under the sheets on John Harold's bed. He then called for Eugene and the pissed off and frightened cat.
Eugene brought the cat into the room and tossed him under the top sheet on the bed. Quickly they tucked in the sheet all the way around the bed to trap the cat. Charlie hit the RECORD button on the eight-track. The cat was in the middle of the bed with very little room to move, and the two microphones were right next to him. Eugene and Charlie then began to shake the mattress violently and the cat began to scream. This continued for three or four minutes until they stopped for fear of the cat ripping the sheets apart and attacking them, or even worse, crapping on the bed. They turned off the recorder, wrapped the cat up in the sheet and took it to the alley behind the apartments and set it free. The cat left the neighborhood and was never seen again by any of us.
After John Harold was snoring loud enough to shake the walls, it was time to act. Charlie crawled into the bedroom on his stomach and made his way to the tape player. Quietly he inserted the tape, turned on the system and cranked up the volume. The first minute or so was blank to give him time to get out of the room before the commotion began.
We stood outside of the door and waited. All of us were back about three feet in case John Harold came charging through the door, so he wouldn't run over us or knock the hell out of us. In a matter of moments the tape started playing.
They had tried to tell me what an eerie and crazed sound the cat had made, but it was something that had to be heard to be fully appreciated. I can't imagine a more painful and anguished sound if they had put the cat's balls in a vise and started slowly clamping down on them. To someone with a deathly fear of cats it was sheer terror.
We heard John Harold's feet hit the floor about five seconds after the tape started. He was banging into things in the dark and we heard several serious crashes. He finally found the light switch. He turned the light on with one hand and grabbed a baseball bat with the other. Only then did he realize the screaming and moaning was coming from the tape player. He grabbed the tape from the slot and threw it against the wall as hard as he could. We turned and ran into the living room and took positions near the door in case we had to leave the apartment quickly.
John Harold never came out of the room, but he yelled several threats to Charlie and Eugene. He didn't find out until several days later that the cat had been under his sheets for several minutes. If he had known that at the time there would have been a fight. Just to be safe I decided to sleep on the couch that night.
This happened in the fall of 1973. Thirty years later I was living in Tyler, Texas. One morning I drove down to Crockett and stopped by John Harold's shop and visited with him for a few minutes. I hadn't seen him in years and he hadn't changed much. Naturally the subject of cats came up within the first five minutes, and I asked if he was still bothered by them?
He said, "Actually I have twenty-five cats in the barn to keep the mice under control. As long as they stay back there everything is fine. If they ever come up to the house I will shoot them." Same old John Harold.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Jesse Strange, Country Star

 From my earliest memory until I was in high school, I can remember the Strange family living in our neighborhood. Mr. Strange worked for a prominent lawyer named Earl Porter Adams. The Adams family lived in a huge house just down the street from us. Mr. and Mrs. Adams were well up in years and needed help keeping up their house and property. They had several acres of land. Even though they lived in town, they had a large garden and several large pens full of chickens, which wasn't uncommon in the fifties and sixties in a small East Texas town.
The Stranges lived in a small house about two hundred yards behind the Adams home. There was a dirt lane that ran from the street to their cottage. Two-thirds of the way the road was wide enough for a car to drive down, but the last third narrowed to no more than four feet across. Mr. Strange couldn't drive and didn't own a car, so it didn't matter. The family bought its groceries at our store, and on many occasions my mother would load up the groceries and drive the entire family most of the way back to their house. She would stop where the lane narrowed and they would walk the rest of the way home. I rode with her several times.
Mr. and Mrs. Strange had two sons, Jesse and Curtis. Jesse was seven years older than me and Curtis was probably ten years my senior. Jesse attended school until he was a freshman in high school and I don't recall if Curtis ever went.
Even as a little kid I can remember Curtis sitting next to a drainage ditch across the street from my house. He would have a cane fishing pole and some line tied to it. If you asked him what he was doing, his answer was always "fishing for terrapins." He occasionally would venture down some of the small creeks and ditches and fish near other peoples houses, which in most cases wasn't welcomed. Curtis was probably harmless for the most part, but one could never be sure. Charlie Jackson's dad ran him off from their house on more than one occasion when he was fishing in their yard. As far as I know Curtis never caught anything. The fact that there was rarely any water where he fished might have been a contributing factor. He probably would have messed on himself if he ever did get anything on a line.
When we were little kids, Charlie and I would get Curtis in my backyard and try to play football with him. He had no idea how to play football. We would end up getting him to hold the ball, and then we would get a running start and try to tackle him. Curtis was much bigger than the two of us together and was in no danger of being injured. We were lucky he never got tired of the game and beat the hell out of us. One time one of us caught him from behind unexpectedly. He spun around and yelled. He had a wild look in his eye and scared us pretty badly. That was our last football game with Curtis.
My mother was reading my stories not long ago and she told me I was mistaken about the worst beating of my life coming after I set the pasture on fire. She said, "I guess you were too little to remember the day you walked to town with Jesse Strange." I don't recall it at all. She told me the story.
When I was five years old I stayed with my grandparents next door to the grocery store while my mother worked. I would be allowed to walk over to the store for a Coke and to visit with my mother. One of my grandparents would watch me walk next door, then my mother would supervise my return trip.
I was at the store one morning when Jesse Strange came in for a Coke. (All soft drinks are "Coke" to Texans, in case you didn't know.) Jesse was about twelve years old at the time, which to me was an adult. I asked him where he was going and he said he was going to town. I went inside and asked my mother if I could walk to town with Jesse Strange. You know what the answer to that question was. Being the obedient, angelic son I was, I walked right out the door and joined Jesse on his trip to town. Mother had told me to go back to the house, and most of the time that is what I would have done. She got a phone call before she got to the door to watch me, so for the moment she thought I was on the way home.
It was a mile from the store to downtown Crockett, so it didn't take very long for us to make the trip. Mother checked on my whereabouts when she got caught up in the store and found I wasn't at the house. My grandfather watched the store while she drove to town.
A block off of the courthouse square was Polk's Department Store. Mother found me standing next to Jesse Strange in front of Polk’s taking in the sights. She pulled in a parking place and jumped out of the car. She grabbed me by the arm and proceeded to give me a horrific ass whipping in front of the good citizens of downtown Crockett. Nowadays some do-gooder would have called the cops on her. In those days, when they observed me standing on the corner with Jesse Strange it was a miracle some local rancher didn't come up and offer her the use of a cattle prod just to be sure I got the point.
As the years went by I would see one or all of the Strange family on almost a daily basis. Usually they were all walking in a straight line. Mr. Strange would be at the front of the pack, followed by Mrs. Strange, then Jesse, then Curtis.
My grandfather had one of the first television sets in the neighborhood. It was a huge black and white set. The closest television station to Crockett was KTRE in Lufkin, fifty miles to the east. With all the hills and trees in the area, the reception wasn't great. He put up a telephone pole with a directional antenna, so on occasion if the weather was bad enough we could pick up the Tyler station too.
Each Friday night the entire Strange family would come to our house to watch television. An elderly couple from across the street, Callie and Jesse Graham, would also be there. The Gillette Friday Night Fights was the big highlight. This was a weekly ritual up until my grandfather died when I was about ten. My mother wasn't that comfortable with the practice, so she put an end to it after my grandfather passed away and my grandmother moved in with my aunt and uncle. At that point I didn't see any of the Stranges quite as much. By then I was busy being a little asshole around the neighborhood with Charlie Jackson.
A few years later Charlie and I were standing around in my backyard one hot summer night, no doubt plotting some mischief. We kept hearing some freakish-sounding music coming from somewhere, but we couldn't quite place the source. The sound seemed to be coming from the direction of the Strange house, which we could see across the pasture and up the hill. The porch light was on, but at that distance we couldn't see anyone. With nothing else to do, we decided to investigate.
We walked up East Houston Avenue, past the Adams house. By the time we reached the dirt lane that lead to the Strange property, it was apparent the noise was coming from there.
There were trees and shrubs along each side of the lane, so even with the full moon that night we were able to walk to where the trail opened up into their front yard without being seen. We stayed in the shadows and watched and listened.
Jesse Strange was standing on the front porch under a dim bulb. He had an old guitar strapped around his neck and he was twanging on the strings and belting out "Your Cheating Heart," or at least one verse of it. Charlie and I didn't know what kind of reception we would get if we just walked up to the house. The entire family knew both of us very well, but it was in the dark of the night and we were hiding in the bushes at their house. We decided to stay in the shadows for awhile and listen to the show.
Jesse was pretending to put on a stage show. He would talk to the audience between songs. He would tell jokes and advertise for various businesses in town. He knew a little bit of a lot of country songs. Surprisingly he didn't sound that bad, all things considered. They didn't have a television set, but they had a radio that was tuned to the local station, KIVY. It was your typical small town station. It played mostly old time traditional country music, so we knew where Jesse got his material. In most cases he had one verse down pat, and he would just repeat it over and over. The guitar was out of tune by a mile and was short a couple of strings, but it didn't sound that far removed from some traditional country musicians we heard on a daily basis.
A couple of years earlier my mother had given me a cassette tape recorder for Christmas. The first cassette recorders were thick, bulky rectangular beasts. They didn't have microphones built in, but they were on a three-foot-long cord and plugged into the side of the unit. They were powered by several "C" batteries that never seemed to last very long. After a few minutes we both agreed this was an event we needed to have on tape. It appeared the show was going to go on for awhile, so we retreated back down the trail and ran to my house to get my recorder.
When we returned Jesse was in the middle of a joke. I wish I could remember what it was. It was so stupid we had to stop and listen to the whole thing before continuing on to their house.
Mr. and Mrs. Strange were sitting in chairs just off of the porch and out of the light. We hadn't noticed them before. Curtis was in the house and would occasionally peek around the door. Jesse stopped the show when he saw us coming into the yard. We had wondered if he would keep up the performance with us there.
We immediately told him how much we enjoyed the show and asked him to continue. He was hesitant, but we figured he would eventually come around. We then asked if he would keep the show going if we went back down the lane and listened from the shadows, and he finally agreed to do it.
I then asked him if we could leave the tape recorder on the porch and record the show. He wasn't exactly sure what a tape recorder did. Charlie and I both spoke into it and played it back for him. He was amazed and seemed to be excited at the idea of being on tape. Apparently none of the family had seen a tape recorded before. It was as if we had arrived with the head of a unicorn. We had to demonstrate it several times. Curtis almost ran when we played it back the first time. He was convinced there was a little man inside the box that was talking to him. Of course Charlie and I told him that in fact there was a little man in the box talking to him. The entire family seemed to be satisfied with the explanation. We put it down on the porch/stage by Jesse and walked back to the bushes at the end of the yard. The show resumed.
The first cassettes would record for thirty minutes on each side. Jesse must have kept it up for at least another hour. We were getting a little bored standing out in the bushes. We finally decided we needed to be closer to get the full effect of the production. Using the bushes that lined the yard on both sides as cover, Charlie and I made our way past the house, then we walked up to the edge of the porch opposite where Mr. and Mrs. Strange were seated. Nobody had seen us at all. We stood within five feet of Jesse for the last part of his show.
Jesse almost jumped off the porch when he finally saw us. He decided the show was over at that point. I rewound the tape and played it back for him. He was obviously pleased. Curtis stared at the recorder from a distance and made a couple of comments about the little man singing. It must have been around eleven o'clock when we left that night.
The Jesse Strange country extravaganza continued for several more weeks. Charlie and I took a few friends with us on several occasions, but Jesse wouldn't allow anyone else to come right up to the stage except for us. We played the tape for so many people it finally wore out. Stephen Satterwhite and I made a few trips up the lane with my recorder as well.
Just behind the Strange house was a cul-de-sac at the end of Mimosa Lane. The owners of the development built a ten-foot privacy fence just behind the little cottage/Opry Stage to totally isolate it from the neighbors. The fence was built long before the music production began. We wondered how the people living just beyond the fence were enjoying the nightly performances. It turned out they weren't nearly as appreciative as Charlie and I were. A few of them got together and went to Mr. Adams and asked him to put an end to it. Jesse was without an outlet to express his talents, so he went back to walking the streets and being an ordinary person again. I wish I still had that tape.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Tricking Buck

 When I was a sophomore in high school, a boy named James Buchanan moved to town. There was always a honeymoon period for new students, and they had to walk a fine line to fit in. They have to be open and friendly, but no too outgoing so they don't appear to be forcing themselves into the established social structure. If a new boy is too friendly with the girls, the other boys instantly hate him, and the same happens when a new girl is too outgoing with the boys.
James was a junior, so we only had one class together. He sat behind me in science class since we were put in alphabetical order the first day. He felt the need to talk to me at every opportunity, and being nice, I fought the urge to tell him to shut the hell up and leave me alone. He mostly told me how the girls were crazy about him and all the great adventures he had on a daily basis.
A few weeks into the school year, I found that several of my friends had James, or "Buck," in their classes as well. We began trying to come up with a prank to pull on him, but for a while nothing came to mind. Okay, we probably shouldn't have, but there wasn't much else to do.
One Saturday morning, one of my friends, David Douglas, and his mom were in front of a store on the courthouse square visiting with some friends. One very pretty girl was David's age and was from out of town. While she and David talked Buck happened to drive by in his brother's old Thunderbird. He honked and waved so David and the girl both looked and waved, mostly out of reflex. Buck was smiling like a jackass eating briars when he saw a pretty girl showing him some attention.
Buck cornered David first thing Monday morning to ask who the girl was that waved at him. David immediately began to stroke his ego. He told Buck her name was Pat and she was from Austonio, a small community west of Crockett. He also told Buck how impressed she was with him and his hot car, and that she couldn't talk about anything else after he had driven by. Buck begged David to introduce him, but class was about to start, so David said they would talk about it later.
David told the story to several of us at lunch. A plan began to come together to put Buck in his place. We each contributed some ideas, and by the end of the break we had a working plot. We met after school to compare notes and then get our stories straight. There were six of us involved, and coincidently, we were the only ones who talked to Buck on a regular basis. If the six of us kept our stories straight we knew we could pull it off. Whatever David came up with, the odds were pretty good the other five were the only ones with whom Buck would likely check the facts.
David began laying the groundwork. When Buck looked him up to get some details on Pat, David was more than happy to fill him in. He told Buck that Pat was a senior at Austonio High School. Austonio exists, but the high school does not. Pat was said to live in a large house on a hill just outside of Austonio, about twelve miles from Crockett. All the details were vague so they couldn't be easily verified. David repeatedly told Buck that Pat wanted to meet him in the worst way, and Buck was getting wound up and hot to trot. David knew he was taking the bait.
David asked Buck if he would be free the following Friday night to meet Pat. Buck was a member of the high school stage band and they had a concert, but he said he would be ready to go as soon as it was over.
David threw in the key part of the story he had to sell to Buck. Pat was a little on the wild side, which exited Buck even more. Her father was very protective of her and was also a raging drunk. He normally was at a bar every Friday night, but if he happened to be home they wouldn't stop at Pat's house. It would be too dangerous for all concerned if he was home when they arrived. Buck said, "Don't worry about him, I know how to handle fathers!"
Pat's house was a large house on a ranch owned by a friend of my family. They practically raised me and I had use of the place anytime I wanted. It was only used by deer hunters a few weekends each winter, otherwise it was unoccupied. It had a large porch completely across the front of the house. The front door opened into a hallway that ran to the back of the house, with all the rooms located on either side. At night with the front door open and light coming from the far end of the hall, only the silhouette of someone in the main entrance would be visible. It was a hundred yards off the highway and not clearly visible to passing traffic. It was the perfect location for the prank.
We couldn't allow Buck to be driving the car, so David had to supply the transportation. David's parents were going to be out of town for the weekend, and a friend of the family offered David the use of their second car while they were away. It was an old Corvair, which had by then become a collector's item. They had no idea what it was about to be put through, but neither did we at the time.
Friday night while David and Buck were at the concert, the rest of us were setting the scene at the ranch house. We all rode out in Ray Craycraft's pickup. The gang consisted of Ray, myself, Charlie Jackson, Eugene May and Wayne Stone. The truck was parked behind the house and out of sight, and the light at the back of the porch was turned on to set the stage. Charlie was the tallest of us and had the broadest shoulders, so he was selected to be Pat's drunken father. He put on an old felt hat and a floor-length army coat. I brought along a long-barrel single-shot shotgun and a couple of shells. I cut off the ends of the shells and dumped out the pellets. The concert was over at 9 p.m., so by 9:15 we had taken our places and were waiting. Charlie was armed and ready in a room near the back of the hallway. The rest of us hid in a darkened room at the front of the house.
As we waited, we began to discuss the possibility that Buck wouldn't fall for the trick at all, but would just laugh at us for thinking he was stupid enough to believe all the crap he had been told. Although we had all promised to keep the plan to ourselves, in truth each of us had told several friends, so by Friday night the plan was known to at least twenty other people. We could only hope nobody liked Buck enough to tip him off, but we couldn't be sure.
At 9:30 David turned into the driveway and eased up the hill to the house. He positioned the car so the headlights shone across the bottom of the steps of the front porch. They could see down the hall and out the back of the house, but not clearly. David turned off the engine and removed the keys from the ignition, but left the headlights on. Buck remained in his seat while David walked onto the porch and knocked on the door. Charlie Jackson came stomping down the hall yelling at the top of his voice, "I warned you bastards about coming out here to see my daughter!"
David began slowly stepping backwards toward the porch steps. Charlie kicked the screen door open and leveled the shotgun at David. It happened in a matter of seconds, but it seemed like an hour as we looked through the window. David continued to back away as if nearly frozen with fear. As he reached the bottom step Charlie fired a blast directly at his chest. David grabbed his chest with both hands and fell on his back, landing squarely in the headlights of the Corvair.
As was planned, David wore a white dress shirt. While backing off the porch he reached into his pocket and pulled out a sandwich bag full of ketchup. At the moment of the shotgun blast he smashed the packet onto his chest and made a fatal looking wound instantly appear.
As soon as David hit the ground Charlie shook his fist in the direction of the car and pulled another shell from his pocket and reloaded. At this point we feared Buck would emerge from the car and laugh at us. Boy, were we wrong!
Charlie was wondering what to do next as he closed the chamber on the shotgun. At that instant the Corvair's engine roared to life! Buck shifted into reverse, backed down to the highway in about a second, and headed for Crockett. David sat up with a stunned look on his face. He held the keys up for us to see as we yelled in unison, "Why didn't you take the keys out, you idiot?"
We now know a Corvair can be started without the keys as long as the steering column isn't locked. There was a visible cloud of smoke from the exhaust of the Corvair as Buck sped toward Crockett at a high rate of speed.
It quickly sank in that Buck had bought the entire bill of goods. He was driving full blast toward town at high speed and was scared out of his mind. All six of us piled into the pickup and took up the pursuit. We didn't know how fast a Corvair would go, but we were confident we could overtake him before he reached town. We were wrong. We could see his taillights topping the hills in front of us and we didn't seem to be gaining an inch. We were nearing one hundred miles per hour and were starting to fear for our own lives as well as Buck's. We were also wondering what he was going to do when he got to town.
Two miles from Crockett, Buck came upon a carload of guys who had stopped on the side of the road to pee. Buck hit the brakes and slid up behind their parked car in a cloud of dust. They were all drunk, and Buck bearing down upon them was a scary sight. They all dove into the car and locked the doors as Buck came running up and started banging on the windows. Buck began yelling about his friend being murdered and the old man was chasing him. He begged them to take him to the sheriff's office, but they were convinced he was crazy and wouldn't let him in.
Thirty seconds later we arrived in the pickup. The drunks in the car decided Buck must be telling the truth, so they hit the gas and headed for town, leaving Buck standing on the side of the road.
Buck had a look of horror on his face when our headlights hit him. He ran down into the ditch along the road and up the other side, where there was a barbed wire fence. Now, Buck was a little over five feet tall, which meant he only had a couple of inches on the fence. In a fit of panic he decided to attempt a swan dive over the fence. He landed on the top wire, slid over, and landed on his face in the pasture. He got to his feet immediately and started running across the field.
Buck was over the fence and moving fast by the time we got out of the pickup. We were trying to yell at him to stop and it was all a trick, but we were laughing too hard to get it out. Finally someone was able to yell at him and get him stopped. As he walked back toward us it was apparent how frightened he really was. He was sobbing uncontrollably and tears were streaming down his face. His pants were shredded from the barbed wire fence and he was covered with mud. He was wearing what had a few seconds earlier been his nicest suit and he had a couple of nasty cuts on his legs from the rusty wire.
We herded Buck back into the car and David was going to drive him to the emergency room for a tetanus shot. Buck wanted to stop at his house and change clothes. He lived in an apartment over a store on the highway we were on. We walked with him up the steps to his door, but let him go in and face his parents alone. As he entered the room his Dad looked up and saw him covered in mud and his best suit in shreds. He asked, "Son, what have you done?"
Buck launched into a vague rambling story about going armadillo hunting with some friends and running into a fence. He said he guessed he should have changed clothes first.
His Dad's only reply was, "Son, you have sinned!"
When Buck emerged in his jeans and we started down the stairs, three sheriffs cruisers went flying by with sirens blaring. They were going toward Austonio. We looked at each other and hoped it was just a coincidence. We took Buck to get his shot, took up a collection for a new pair of pants and took him back home.
With David's parents out of town, we met at his house to go over the events of the night. We didn't figure Buck would be eager to tell anyone what happened, and we were getting scared to tell anyone ourselves in case the sheriff was looking for us. We agreed to keep quiet about what happened for at least a week. Everyone swore they wouldn't breathe a word of it.
After church services on Wednesday night, my Mother spent an unusual amount of time talking to Betty Douglas. I was getting a bad feeling about it. When we got home my Mother sat me down at the kitchen table, looked me straight in the eye and asked, "What did you do last Friday night?"
I had a feeling she already knew, so I told her every detail, from start to finish. She picked up the phone, called Betty Douglas and said, "Jimmy told me the same story practically word for word."
David had told his parents as soon as they returned home. Since they hadn't heard a word from anyone else, they decided everyone else involved had clammed up, or he had gone completely insane.
We had kept quiet for the most part, which was a minor miracle given all the people involved and how we had all blabbed about it the previous week. We were feeling proud of ourselves when the sheriff called Ray Craycraft's Dad. The drunks had driven into town and reported a possible double murder. The only description they had of the alleged killer was a white Chevy pickup pulling up as they sped away. Since the Craycrafts lived on the same highway, the sheriff hoped they might know something. Mr. Craycraft knew nothing, but he also knew Ray and a bunch of his idiot friends were out riding around on the night in question. When Ray got home from school his Dad confronted him and he spilled his guts. He was then made to call the sheriff and tell the tale. After that it was out in the open.
We were local legends for awhile. Buck was asked about it countless times, and each time he related his version, he was more cool and collected than the time before. After a week he had played the trick on us. He moved away a short time later and we had a great story to tell for the rest of our lives.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Nekkid Lumberjacks

The title is mostly to get your attention. What kind of perverts do you think we were? Of course, technically it is the truth. The mascot of Stephen F. Austin State University is the lumberjack, so clean up your minds, you weirdoes.
In the early '70s an activity known as streaking became popular. For the two of you that don't know what I'm talking about, it was and is the practice of running naked (nekkid for us Texans) through some public place to show people that you are a free spirit, in touch with nature and your inner self, and that you are an idiot. We would occasionally see reports on the news of streaking incidents around the country, but we never thought it would be tolerated in a conservative community such as Nacogdoches. That all changed in March of 1974.
We had one week of school left before we got out for spring break, so studying and attending class weren't high on our list of priorities. Every teacher made sure to give at least one exam that week to keep us honest. I was living at the Rio del Oro apartments with Eugene May, John Harold Allen, Ken Craycraft and Charlie Jackson at the time. One of our group had heard a rumor of a student streaking in the cafeteria over the weekend. Any rumor of public nudity naturally piqued our interest.
Monday after class I ran into a girl from Crockett who lived in the largest dorm on campus. Her roommate was also from Crockett. She said some students had streaked in the street in front of her dorm on Sunday night, or so she had heard. I told her to call us if she saw it happening, and she said she would. I relayed the information to my roommates when I returned home.
On Tuesday night everyone was studying except Ken and me. Eugene and John Harold had gone to the library and Charlie was holed up in his room. Ken and I were watching tv and bitching about having nothing to do. The phone rang and I answered. It was the girl from Crockett I had spoken to on Monday. She said, "If you want to see some streakers you had better come to our dorm quickly. There are dozens of people streaking up and down the street and more kids are joining them by the minute." Ken and I dove into his Grand Prix and were on campus in record time.
The street in front on the dorm was completely blocked by a large crowd when we arrived, so we turned into the parking lot behind the building. The two girls from Crockett were out front, so we made our way over to talk with them. Suddenly at least a dozen girls and three guys ran past us, NEKKID!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
We stood there and stared as another group ran past. Our dream had come true.
We asked the two Crockett girls if they were going to streak? In unison they said "Hell no!" We stood with them and watched as students streaked by us.
A naked blonde girl came trotting by holding hands with some naked male hippie. Each had a T-shirt and a pair of shorts in the other hand. They stopped in front of us and the girl started talking to the two Crockett girls. All three lived on the same floor. She asked if we would join them and streak. We all said no. Ken, never one to pass up an opportunity to party, immediately invited both of them to a bash at our apartment. He told them our address and provided directions. The two girls from Crockett said they would go with us for a little while if we would bring them back. At that moment we figured we would all sit around the apartment and tell the others about what had happened and blow up the story beyond all reality.
As we crossed the parking lot we saw Archie Meyer, one of the SFA basketball players. He was married and lived in the couples housing nearby. He had been curious as to the source of all the excitement and had been staring at all the women racing by him. He was a big black guy and stood about six and a half feet tall. SFA had to break all kinds of rules to recruit him and would spend the next two years on probation for it, but that is another story. We didn't know him personally, but Ken yelled "Hey Archie! We are having a party at Rio del Oro if you want to come!" Archie said "Hell yes!" Ken gave him our address and we drove away, never really expecting anyone would show up.
It was after ten p.m. when the four of us got to the apartment. Eugene and John Harold were back from the library and Charlie was in his room studying. Ken and I began to give a glowing account of what we had seen. The two Crockett girls just sat quietly. Unbelievably Eugene and John Harold had doubts about our stories. Five minutes later we were at least partially vindicated.
There was a knock at our door. Eugene opened it and there stood Archie Meyer. We had all seen him play on many occasions, so Eugene and John Harold instantly recognized him. Ken and I introduced him like we were all homies from the hood. Archie immediately started talking about all the naked women running up and down the street. Ken and I said we were sure some were religious women because they had such hairy krishnas.
Our door opened and the blonde and the hippie walked in and sat down on the floor. They were each wearing shorts and a T-shirt. We introduced them as the two streakers we had been talking about. Finally the skeptical assholes began to believe us.
The blonde girl took control of the conversation. She began to tell us what a uplifting experience it was to be nude in public. All the males in attendance could certainly vouch for that. She then turned to the hippie and introduced herself. They had gotten together half an hour earlier to run naked around the campus, but had never officially met. She then said, "We should all be free of our inhibitions and take off our clothes right now."
With that she stood up, dropped her shorts and took off her shirt and stood before us totally nude. The hippie did likewise. We didn't look his direction, but she had a body that would make you set fire to an old folks home and beat the survivors in the head with a shovel as they ran out if she asked you to. (Credit author Joe R. Lansdale for that observation in Freezer Burn). She had a very plain face, but in truth we weren't looking that high up. As she continued to speak about the joy she got from being nude we all began to have an uplifting experience again. We stared at her like two fried eggs in a slop bucket. We weren't about to take our clothes off .
The blonde seemed a little put out that only the hippie stripped on her command. She asked if anyone wanted to go with her to streak the apartment complex, and only the hippie joined her. Hand in hand they walked out and left their clothes on our floor, so we expected them to return shortly.
After they closed the door we sat and looked at each other for at least a minute, not knowing if we had really seen what had transpired. Archie Meyer then started saying over and over, "I know what I've been seeing but I ain't believing it!" Finally we started talking about both of them like they were freaks.
Half an hour later the blonde and the hippie returned. He dressed and told her he had enjoyed himself, then he left. She sat down on the carpet Indian style and gave us all a good view. Archie Meyer was sitting by her about to go crazy. He might have been married, but in 1974 a black man from Mississippi didn't spend a lot of time sitting around on the floor talking to naked blonde women. She stretched out on the floor and said she was tired. He lay beside her and put an arm around her. She let him do it, but made it clear that was all she would tolerate.
It was getting late and everyone was getting tired. The excitement of a naked blonde sleeping on our floor was starting to wear off. The two girls from Crockett were sitting at each end of the couch and were sound asleep. One by one everyone went to bed. Archie Meyer realized he wasn't going to get any goodies, so he got up and went home.
Sometime in the night the blonde went down the hall to the bathroom, then wandered into the back bedroom where a certain anonymous roommate was sleeping. He woke up, and like the gentlemen he is, offered her a place to warm her beaver. Like the old joke goes, she offered her honor and he honored her offer. All night long it was honor, offer, honor, offer. When he got up the next morning she was gone. I was sure I heard him hacking in the bathroom like he was coughing up a lung. We asked him if he had a hair stuck in his throat? Some even suggested he might be suffering from the classic Texas hangover. That is when you wake up with a lump in your throat and a string hanging out of your mouth. He said he was a little worried about catching something, so he got up after she left and doused himself with Listerine.
On Thursday night they held a "streak dance" in front of the dorm. So many people showed up to watch and so few showed up to streak it was a big letdown. We already had our big story to tell.