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OLD TIP AND HIS MECHANICAL MULE - Part 5

Posted by Admin on February 13, 2016 at 4:30 PM Comments comments (1)

Sad day for a tractor salesman

 

The way it looked to me, Tip Holder was a horse trader by calling, if a calling is doing what a body enjoys and does best. Old Tip always seemed to have a few horses or mules about, and they changed from tome to time. I remember a fine little black Morgan mare named Dixie that J.T. used to ride. There was a fat little pinto that they rode too. They also had a big, skinny pinto with a backbone like a razor blade. That was the horse I always ended up with when I went riding with J.T.

Old Tip had never plowed with anything other than a horse or a mule. That’s how he liked it. He had no intentions of farming more than forty acres, and he could handle that much with a couple of mules, no problem. He understood mules and horses, and they understood him. He enjoyed fooling with them.

One fine summer day a big truck with a lowboy trailer behind slowed and pulled up on the side of the road in front of Thompsy’s house. Tied down to the trailer sat a brand spanking new bright orange Allis Chalmers tractor. The driver’s door opened on the truck and a well-fed citified dude in a tan field jacket and a grey felt country gentleman hat got out and strolled over to where old Tip sat on the ground, leaning back against a tree, resting in the shade. The dude tipped his hat, revealing thick brown hair, parted in the middle and plastered down. A wide, toothy grin split his square face.

“Mister Holder,” he began, consulting a three-by-five index card he held in his hand, “I am a tractor salesman.” He gave his name and reached to shake old Tip’s hand. Tip wrinkled his nose at the smell of the guy’s aftershave. “I have come all the way out here from Henderson to sell you this fine tractor,” the man continued, with a theatrical sweep of his hat in the direction of the machine on the trailer.

Tip rolled his eyes sideways at the tractor, sitting there so shiny in the sun, looking like a Christmas ornament.

“No thankee, mister,” he said. “She’s purty as a picture, but I ain’t got no use for a tractor. Got me a mule.” He pulled his mumble-peg knife out of the ground and began gouging at the dirt under one horny toenail. Realizing that after finishing that toe he still had nine to go, he let out a defeated sigh and gave it up. He folded the knife and dropped it into a hip pocket.

But the salesman was not one to take no for an answer. He had a new Buick that wasn’t paid for, and he needed to make a sale. He launched enthusiastically into a rehearsed spiel about how tractors don’t eat corn like mules do, and how they could cover so much more ground in a day, etc. He rattled on and on until Tip was about ready to decide he was going to have to promise to buy the blamed thing just to get the dude to leave.

“Tell you what, Mister Holder,” the salesman said, “I’ll just unload her and you can take her for a trial run!” He was talking over his shoulder as he walked away, not giving Tip a chance to refuse. “Can’t hurt to just drive it, you know.”

The dude didn’t know how wrong he was.

“Don’t know how to drive no machinery,” Tip objected, standing up. The mumble-peg knife fell through the hole in his back pocket. He scratched his head, inspecting the tractor more closely. “That thing ain’t even got no plowlines to guide ‘er with!”

Ignoring him, the salesman concentrated on backing the tractor off the trailer. He wheeled pop-pop-popping over to where Tip stood. “You just use this here steering wheel to guide her with,” he said, jumping down from the seat. He patted a metal step. “Come on and climb up here, Mister Holder, and I’ll show you how she works.”

With a shrug, old Tip reluctantly climbed up and took a seat. The eager salesman ran through all the instructions, showed Tip how to work the gas, and then old Tip was off and rolling. He eased the big orange tractor out into last year’s cotton patch and was going along pretty smooth and fairly straight. Confidence building, Tip reached over and pushed the gas lever all the way down. The popping got faster and louder, and the wind got cool in his face. Hot dang, old Tip was thinking, if this ain’t fun!

Then he spied the fence at the end of the row.

Leaning back in the seat, Tip pulled back on the steering wheel. “Whoa!” he yelled. Nothing happened. That fence kept on coming at him pretty fast. The adrenaline rush lent strength to him as he braced his bare feet up against the dashboard and pulled back on the steering wheel with all his might. Eyes popping out of his head, veins bulging in his neck, ol’ Tip went through four strands of barbed wire screaming, “Whoaback, you jughead, WHOA!”

Old Tip, tractor and fence disappeared over in the gulley in a cloud of red dust. Clanking and popping sounds, mixed in with a lot of cussing wafted back to the stricken salesman, whose white knuckles clutched at the bark of a sturdy oak tree for support.

Presently the grimy, limping figure of old Tip emerged from the hanging cloud of dust, and stalked over to the gawking salesman. His overalls hung in rags from his skinny body, and his arms and face were crisscrossed with numerous scratches. “Eye-gonnies, mister,” he snarled, “you git you and that ornery piece of junk offen my place.” As short as he was, old Tip was looking pretty mean. “Anything that don’t understand ‘gee’ and ‘haw’ and ‘whoaback’ just ain’t no use to me!”

Later that afternoon neighbors along the road saw the truck and trailer go by, headed for town. They wondered who had traded in the dilapidated tractor that was piled on the trailer. That salesman must have needed a sale mighty bad to have taken a beatup old pile of junk like that in trade…all dusty and snarled in bobwire, with the steering wheel bent all doubled back toward the seat like that.

Just no accounting for them town salesmen.

 

 

 

 

 

First written December 11, 1981

 

Revised December 12, 2009

 

OLD TIP AND HIS MECHANICAL MULE - Part 4

Posted by Admin on January 23, 2016 at 11:15 PM Comments comments (0)

Plenty of fine clothes, big fine home, big fine car…

 

Ellen was always going on about finding Frances a “feller.” She liked to read the movie star magazines and dream. She had given up on hitting the big time herself, but she dreamed of success for her daughter. Frances liked her mama’s ideas all right, too. A fancy big city feller with a big important job, or one of them rich Hollywood movie stars would be just about right. How they would meet and fall in love with Frances was always the weak part of their plan. The corner of Needmore and Garland Bottom roads was a long way from the corner of Hollywood and Vine. Also, though Frances was nice enough looking, she wasn’t exactly a look-alike for any of the movie queens of that day. But on certain important points Ellen and Frances would always agree: this “feller” had to be A: handsome, and B: rich, with a big, fine home and a big, fine car…and he would buy Frances plenty of fine clothes.

So they dreamed away, and it was fun listening to them. What difference did it make if Hollywood was two thousand miles away and all the rich and famous “fellers” already had more girls than they could handle on waiting lists? There was no need to confuse the issue with facts. A little harmless imagination mixed with a little naivety can make a dull, uneventful life seem awfully exciting.

After all, isn’t anything and everything possible in America?

Baptizing in the river

 

One day I was up at J.T.’s house and we heard his mama talking about a baptizing some Holiness church people were having down in the Forked Deer River at the bridge in Garland Bottom. We had never been to a baptizing, and we were both pretty curious about how those holy rollers did it. Me and J.T. looked at each other. “Mama,” J.T. said to Ellen, “Is it okay if me and Joe go down and sit on the bridge and watch the baptizing?”

Ellen considered it for a moment. “Yes, I suppose so,” she said. “You can go on down there and set and watch. But now, J.T., if y’uns fall in that canal and get drownded, I’m gonna whup you when you get home!”

Walking down the road to the river we tried to think that one through, but we didn’t get anywhere with it.

By the time we got to the place, the Holiness folks had already started. Some of them had climbed back up on the bank, shivering and wet, to dry off in the sun. There was a bunch of folks, men and women and young people, all wearing white robes. I had heard tell of the Holy Ghost, and that’s what they made me think of – ghosts. I felt a chill go down my spine. In my mind I tried out a thought: These folks called themselves Holiness (or maybe it was others called them that)…maybe that’s where the term “Holy Ghost” came from?

A few years passed before I began to read the Bible for myself and found out that the Holy Spirit is a person, and that person is God…and that a person who believes in Jesus can be filled with the Holy Spirit and have the power to live a Christian life.

But I didn’t know any of that then. Me and J.T., two little barefoot boys, sat there swinging our feet off the edge of the old wooden bridge, watching wide-eyed as the minister ducked one after another under the muddy waters of the Forked Deer. As we watched the spectacle in wonder, I had no way of knowing that I myself would one day be baptized in water, and finally understand the meaning: symbolically entering into the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, my Lord. How little I understood then, and sometimes it seems I understand less now, but I go on learning. The images are still there, in the storehouse of memory, adding to my understanding of it all.

 

Reminds me of a preacher I heard about who liked to make sure people were baptized real good. He would hold folks under water a long time, while he prayed and made sure all the sin was washed away. One day he was baptizing a nervous looking old boy…got him dunked under the water and started to pray. Suddenly the guy commenced to jerking and thrashing around, trying to get away. The parson, a pretty husky old boy, just took a tighter grip and continued to pray, holding his man under by main strength. Bubbles floated up, and the preacher could hear something that sounded like words. The best he could make out, it sounded something like, “Oddey oddey oxin! Oddey oddey oxin!”

In due time the preacher said “Amen,” and raised his poor victim out of the water, red-faced and bug-eyed. “Now what were you trying to say, son,” the preacher asked.

But the guy was already halfway to the river bank, splashing water wildly in every direction in his haste. The preacher caught his answer as he clawed his way up the bank:

“I said, I seen a water moxican!”



Continued Next Week.......

 


 

OLD TIP AND HIS MECHANICAL MULE - Part 3

Posted by Admin on January 16, 2016 at 7:25 PM Comments comments (1)

Baptizing in the river

One day I was up at J.T.’s house and we heard his mama talking about a baptizing some Holiness church people were having down in the Forked Deer River at the bridge in Garland Bottom. We had never been to a baptizing, and we were both pretty curious about how those holy rollers did it. Me and J.T. looked at each other. “Mama,” J.T. said to Ellen, “Is it okay if me and Joe go down and sit on the bridge and watch the baptizing?”

Ellen considered it for a moment. “Yes, I suppose so,” she said. “You can go on down there and set and watch. But now, J.T., if y’uns fall in that canal and get drownded, I’m gonna whup you when you get home!”

Walking down the road to the river we tried to think that one through, but we didn’t get anywhere with it.

By the time we got to the place, the Holiness folks had already started. Some of them had climbed back up on the bank, shivering and wet, to dry off in the sun. There was a bunch of folks, men and women and young people, all wearing white robes. I had heard tell of the Holy Ghost, and that’s what they made me think of – ghosts. I felt a chill go down my spine. In my mind I tried out a thought: These folks called themselves Holiness (or maybe it was others called them that)…maybe that’s where the term “Holy Ghost” came from?

A few years passed before I began to read the Bible for myself and found out that the Holy Spirit is a person, and that person is God…and that a person who believes in Jesus can be filled with the Holy Spirit and have the power to live a Christian life.

But I didn’t know any of that then. Me and J.T., two little barefoot boys, sat there swinging our feet off the edge of the old wooden bridge, watching wide-eyed as the minister ducked one after another under the muddy waters of the Forked Deer. As we watched the spectacle in wonder, I had no way of knowing that I myself would one day be baptized in water, and finally understand the meaning: symbolically entering into the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, my Lord. How little I understood then, and sometimes it seems I understand less now, but I go on learning. The images are still there, in the storehouse of memory, adding to my understanding of it all.

 

Reminds me of a preacher I heard about who liked to make sure people were baptized real good. He would hold folks under water a long time, while he prayed and made sure all the sin was washed away. One day he was baptizing a nervous looking old boy…got him dunked under the water and started to pray. Suddenly the guy commenced to jerking and thrashing around, trying to get away. The parson, a pretty husky old boy, just took a tighter grip and continued to pray, holding his man under by main strength. Bubbles floated up, and the preacher could hear something that sounded like words. The best he could make out, it sounded something like, “Oddey oddey oxin! Oddey oddey oxin!”

In due time the preacher said “Amen,” and raised his poor victim out of the water, red-faced and bug-eyed. “Now what were you trying to say, son,” the preacher asked.

But the guy was already halfway to the river bank, splashing water wildly in every direction in his haste. The preacher caught his answer as he clawed his way up the bank:

“I said, I seen a water moxican!”


To be continued.......

 

OLD TIP AND HIS MECHANICAL MULE - Part 2

Posted by Admin on January 10, 2016 at 9:45 PM Comments comments (0)

Plenty of fine clothes, big fine home, big fine car…

 

Ellen was always going on about finding Frances a “feller.” She liked to read the movie star magazines and dream. She had given up on hitting the big time herself, but she dreamed of success for her daughter. Frances liked her mama’s ideas all right, too. A fancy big city feller with a big important job, or one of them rich Hollywood movie stars would be just about right. How they would meet and fall in love with Frances was always the weak part of their plan. The corner of Needmore and Garland Bottom roads was a long way from the corner of Hollywood and Vine. Also, though Frances was nice enough looking, she wasn’t exactly a look-alike for any of the movie queens of that day. But on certain important points Ellen and Frances would always agree: this “feller” had to be A: handsome, and B: rich, with a big, fine home and a big, fine car…and he would buy Frances plenty of fine clothes.

So they dreamed away, and it was fun listening to them. What difference did it make if Hollywood was two thousand miles away and all the rich and famous “fellers” already had more girls than they could handle on waiting lists? There was no need to confuse the issue with facts. A little harmless imagination mixed with a little naivety can make a dull, uneventful life seem awfully exciting.

After all, isn’t anything and everything possible in America?


Continued next week.......

 

OLD TIP AND HIS MECHANICAL MULE

Posted by Admin on January 1, 2016 at 9:10 PM Comments comments (0)

By Joe McCormick

 

 

Thompsy Holder was not a rich man, but it made me feel richer for having known him. He was a small man, not over five feet six inches in height, and slight in build. His head was bald and shiny, with a scruffy little trim of gray hair around the edges. A three-day growth of gray whiskers on his chin never seemed to diminish or grow longer. With a twinkle in his beady little eyes and a gap-toothed grin on his rugged face, he went about his daily business with an easy, cheerful demeanor. He was affectionately known to his friends and neighbors as “Tip.”

The Holders lived about a mile up the road from us, just across the line in Chester County. They lived in a ramshackle unpainted house on a plot of land where the Garland Road and the Needmore Road come together. Old Tip used to tell us that the Needmore Road, little more than a narrow rutted trail in those days, was so named because it “needed more gravel.” Thompsy was married to a very likable florid faced woman named Ellen. When I knew them they had two sons living at home, Toby and J.T., and a daughter named Frances. I believe they had another son named Louis who lived away off somewhere, but I don’t recall having ever met him. J.T. was about my age. He and I and my younger brother Mick hung around together a lot.

These folks were farmers, like almost everyone else in our part of the country during those times immediately after the Great Depression. I never thought to ask if they owned their own place or if they sharecropped. They obviously weren’t rich, but they always had enough to eat – at least they did the times I ate with them. Some of the neighbors made a little moonshine from time to time to augment their income, but I don’t know about old Tip. I do have it on good authority that he was known to take a sip of “shine” once in a while. My mother, who had known the family since her youth, told of a time when Tip was supposed to help her daddy do some work, and he didn’t show up. They went looking and finally found him passed out in a springhouse, smelling like a brewery and grinning like a happy idiot.

Old Tip’s wardrobe was simple…a faded pair of DC bib overalls (he pronounced it “overhauls”) in the summertime, and that was it. He might occasionally wear a shirt, if he could find one, and if the day wasn’t too hot and sticky. If he was going to have to – perish the thought – go out in the fields and work, he’d slap an old greasy cap on his head, to keep the sun from blistering his shiny dome. I suppose he must have had a pair of brogans to wear in the winter, or for one of his infrequent trips into town, but he didn’t need them in the summer. What does a man need shoes for when he’s got callous on his feet thicker than a shoe sole? I once saw him step right in the middle of a low-growing rose bush, thorns and all, and he didn’t even flinch.


More to come soon........

 

Tough Guy

Posted by Admin on November 29, 2015 at 11:00 PM Comments comments (0)

 

 

 

 

TOUGH GUY

 

 

Anybody knows that boys are tougher than girls. I first learned this astounding fact at the age of ten, and it went right to my head.

One hot summer afternoon I was hanging around my grandmother’s house in hopes she might make a pan of biscuits. When it became apparent that there was not going to be any baking until suppertime, I had to find something to do. So I decided to put my new knowledge to a test. I picked a fight with Carolyn.

My aunt Carolyn was the baby of Granny’s family, and only a few years older than me. We grew up together, worked the fields together, and she was more like a big sister than an aunt. I liked Carolyn fine. She had never done anything to me. But I had to have someone to try it out on, and there stood Carolyn – in a flour sack dress, humming a little tune, just asking for it.

I walked up to her and threw her a couple of insults. She completely ignored me. Angered to be taken lightly, I called her something unprintable. She laughed in my face. That was always one of Carolyn’s biggest faults…she was too dang hard to get riled up. It was frustrating. I was beginning to get mad, even if Carolyn wasn’t. Taking a running start, I dived headfirst at her, elbows flailing, bare feet churning the ground. She held me off with a hand in my face and laughed harder as I tried to hook a heel behind her ankle to take her down.

Now I know that boys are tougher than girls, and you know that boys are tougher than girls, but somewhere down the line someone had apparently neglected to slip the news to Carolyn. She acted like she was plumb ignorant of the fact.

Suddenly I found my left wrist and my left ankle both locked in a grip like iron. My other foot left the ground and that ignorant girl began to whirl me around and around like a helicopter. She was laughing like it was some kind of game. The ground, the sky, trees…everything began to blur and my eyes started to film over with a red haze. This thing was getting serious. I mean, for heaven’s sake, why hadn’t somebody got the information through to Carolyn…?

All at once she let me go, and I zoomed through the air like a shot. I hit the ground hard, and by the time I quit rolling in the dust I looked like I had been rolled in flour. I looked up through the settling dust to see Carolyn leaning against a tree, laughing so hard she could barely stand up. My head was spinning from all the whirling, so I decided to just lie quiet for a spell until the dizziness passed, and think on it some. Seemed like to me I was going to have to recheck some of the information the older boys had shared with me on this subject.

I decided to let Carolyn off that time. But I’m still looking for the guy who started all that stuff about boys being tougher than girls.

 

 

 

 

Joe McCormick

 

(First written December 12, 1981. Revised December 31, 2008)

 

Tennessee or Bust - Part 6 - The End

Posted by Admin on September 8, 2015 at 5:40 PM Comments comments (0)

WAKE UP CALL

 

Mona made pallets on the floor for us that night. It sure felt better than droning through the hot desert night with your hands grown to a steering wheel and your eyes about ready to turn backwards in your head. Not even the excitement of being reunited with family could keep me awake that night.

I awoke at the crack of dawn the next morning. I was sure it was the crack of dawn, because I heard it crack. However, when I opened my eyes all I could see was a bunch of red and purple and yellow neon stars flying around, so I thought it must still be night. I blinked my eyes a couple of times and the stars gradually faded away. I became aware that I was lying on my back on the floor, looking up at the ceiling, and it was broad daylight.

I heard a guttural baby chuckle, and looked back over my head. There stood Bobby, who was Mona’s baby at the time. The happy little toddler was wearing a soggy diaper and swinging a baby bottle by the nipple, rocking back and forth from one fat little bare foot to another. He was drooling a big, wide grin. When he saw me open my eyes, he squatted and raised his bottle over his head, holding it by the nipple. Then he brought his bottle of milk down hard with both hands – right in the center of my forehead. It connected with a sound not unlike the busting of a ripe watermelon over your knee, and suddenly it went night again.

When I finally fought my way back to consciousness Bobby was gone, thank God. I guess he figured I was too hard to wake up.

I recovered in time to make it to the table for breakfast, and then Mona loaded us up in her car for the final run into Tennessee. When we crossed the Mississippi River bridge at Memphis and saw that sign halfway over that said “Tennessee State Line” me and Mick straightened everybody’s hair with a wild rebel yell. Dog of I had ever seen so much green trees and grass in my life as I saw along that river bank.

That night the little house at Five Points where we grew up was alive with the sounds of laughter and conversation. After Mama had made over us and fed us, we sat up late bringing each other up to date on all the news. I had to tell them all about California and college. Then, while Mick regaled them with stories of Navy life, I went outside, closing the screen door softly behind me. The cool night air felt good to my flushed face. I breathed deep of the smell of the woods. Somewhere in their shadowy depths a whippoorwill called. I strolled out to the edge of the road and leaned against the old silverleaf tree. I stood there a long time, unthinking, just looking out into the endless night. For two years I had not been out of sight of millions of electric lights that never went out. Here, for as far as I could see, except for the house behind me not a single light broke the darkness. Only the stars. Only the stars…

I felt a long pent up tension begin to ease, like a slowly released breath. Something comfortable seemed to turn over inside me and fall into place.

I was home.

I turned my face up to the starry sky and let the grateful tears come, burning the tiredness from my eyes.

 

Tennessee or Bust - Part 5

Posted by Admin on August 23, 2015 at 2:05 PM Comments comments (0)

GOODBYE TO THE CAR – BUT NOT TO THE SCOOTER

 

     We heard Mick come rolling up outside. A big cloud of yellow dust rolled up with him. He got out of the car waving a twenty dollar bill. “I sold her,” he said.

     “Sold who?” I said.

     “I sold the car, dang it!”

     “For twenty dollars?” I squawked.

     “Price of a bus ticket home – for you. I got enough for me and Leon. Jackie has enough left out of what Pop gave him.” Leave It to Mick to have all the angles figured. He seemed pleased at the turn of events. “From here on,” he said with satisfaction, we leave the driving to someone else.”

    The first thing Mick had done when he got to the bus station (which also housed the local post office, as well as a convenience store and a restaurant) was to ask if anyone knew where he could sell a car. The proprieter, as it happened, had been looking around for a set of wheels for his teenage son. He stepped outside to take a look. Mick got in and spun the little Ford around in the loose gravel a couple of times, and concluded the sale. At a price the guy couldn’t refuse. But I don’t figure we took too bad a fleecing. Pop didn’t give but $35 for the old clunker to begin with.

    We could have had a yard sale with the items we left in the car or threw away. I chose to leave everything but my guitar, books and clothes. Leon refused to part with anything except his basketball, which he punctured with his pocketknife rather than give it to some poor little Indian kid. We pled with him to leave that moronic scooter. Mick even offered to buy it from Leon, so he could junk it, but Leon stubbornly declined. For the second time me and Mick looked at each other and considered whether it would be right to leave Leon and his stupid scooter with the unsuspecting folks of this friendly little town.

    But we finally got ourselves divested of extra weight so we could travel light – all except for Leon – and when that big air conditioned Greyhound bus pulled out of Moriarty, New Mexico, we were all four on board, our dusty carcasses sprawled in luxury on deep cushions. I don’t know what the others did for the first hundred miles. I slept.

     When I finally came to, I sat up and taken stock. Jackie and Leon lay stretched out asleep on the back seat that went across the width of the bus. I stretched and scratched, relishing the feel of a dry shirt. It was nice on that bus. We didn’t have to soak our shirts and roll a window down to stay cool. Man, I could live on this thing! It was only the second long bus ride of my life. I had no idea how luxurious a ride could be.

     Three or four seats ahead of me, Mick had found another sailor boy to sit with, both of them dressed in their navy blue sailor suits. They were smoking and talking. I noticed the other guy look over his shoulder and nod his head in my direction. He said something to Mick and laughed. Mick flicked the ash off the end of his cigarette and nodded agreement. I couldn’t hear his reply. Mick filled me in later, when we went into eat at the next rest stop.

     He and the other sailor had been talking abut where each other was from. When Mick said he was from Tennessee, near Memphis, it made the other guy think of Elvis, who was just getting to be popular at that time.

     But let me pause here to give you an idea of how I looked when I got on that bus. I was tall and skinny, with dust streaming from my clothes. I had a beatup guitar slung over one shoulder and, I’m ashamed to admit, long hair. Collar length hair, and it was going in all directions. And this was before the days of the hippies. It was just that I didn’t like barbers, and hadn’t been sighted by one for over two years. Let me put it this way…if I stood on one leg I looked like the kitchen mop.

     So this other sailor says to Mick, “Speaking of Elvis, have you noticed that bushy-headed so-and-so sitting in the back?”

     “Yeah,” Mick agrees fervently, flicking the ash off his cigarette. “Looks like the devil, don’t he?”

     And him my own brother.

     We got off the bus at Little Rock, Arkansas, and called our sister Ramona. She and her husband Ralph were stationed at the Air Force base in Jacksonville. Mona came and got us and took us to her house to spend the night. You’d have thought we had come back from the dead, the way Mona took on over seeing us again, and when I laid eyes on her and Ralph and the kids, I began to feel like I was home.

 

Tennessee or Bust - Part 4

Posted by Admin on June 30, 2015 at 9:15 PM Comments comments (0)

CULTURE COMES TO MORIARTY, NEW MEXICO

 

The sound of wheels crunching on loose gravel snapped me out of a deep sleep. The car rolled to a stop as I sat up, wiping my sandpapery face with a gritty palm. On the second try to make sound come out of my throat I was able to mumble, “Whereizzis?”

“Bleepfino,” Mick replied. “Someplace name of ‘Garage,’ according to the sign.”

I straightened myself up and looked around. Mick had parked in front of a squat concrete block building surrounded by dust covered junk cars. A big sign over the door said “Garage.”

A homely man of considerable bulk, dressed in greasy overalls lumbered out of a doorway and slouched over to our car. “Do sump’n’ for you boys?” he inquired around a cheek full of cut plug.

“See can you tell me what’s the matter with this motor, will you?” Mick said, and goosed the gas pedal. I can’t do sound effects on paper, but in English it sounded something like this: Wraaghclacketyclacketywhopety whop BAM!

The old mechanic didn’t even bother to look under the hood. He leaned a massive forearm on the car windowsill and spat tobacco juice on the gravel. “She’s a-fixin’ to th’ow a rod, son,” he said.

“How much to fix it?”

The mechanic scratched his grizzled head. “’Fraid I couldn’t get to it for a couple of days, boys. What you’re gonna need is a new block.”

A new block. Mick did some quick calculations. “How much you gimme for this fine car?”

The mechanic chuckled. “Well, son, I already got more cars parked around this place than I need. But you can leave her settin’ here until you come back through if you like.”

Me and Mick looked at one another. We really didn’t plan on dropping back through Flyspeck, New Mexico any time soon. Mick asked where we were and directions to the nearest bus station, and learned that the proper name of the place was Moriarty. While Mick drove off to check on the price of bus tickets, me and the boys went inside the garage to wait. On a whim I decided to take my paintings in with me. I knew we’d never get all our junk on a bus, and were going to have to leave some of it behind. This old mechanic was being helpful to us, and he sized up like a man who might have good taste. I decided I would bequeath my priceless masterpieces to him.

When I walked inside and saw his wife leaning against the counter, I revised my opinion somewhat regarding that wrench jockey’s good taste. That woman filled out a dirty black sweater like three hundred pounds of lumpy cotton in a four foot sack. She gapped a smile at us boys when we came in, and patted her hair. I had a bad minute trying to keep my stomach settled. It was just too early in the morning for a sight like that.

“You fellers come right on in and set, and have a sody,” she invited. I noticed her eying the canvases her husband was leaning up against the wall. I was reaching in the drink box for a cold drink, but out of the corner of my eye I caught her reaction to one of the paintings. Her thick eyebrows went up and she jobbed her husband in the ribs with her elbow.

“Looky, Clarence,” she whispered loudly, and nodded to the painting on the end. “That there’s a nekked woman, Clarence!”

The proper name usually applied to that genre of painting is “nude.” But I was of no mind to be correcting a lady who was offering us a bit of hospitality.

I made Clarence and the wife a gift of my paintings rather than try to wag them along on a bus. Probably if I had gone around in back and dumped the paintings in the trash I could have saved Clarence the trouble of doing it later, but this way I could at least pretend my masterpieces would find a good home with these fine, cultured folks.

 

Tennessee or Bust - Part 3

Posted by Admin on June 23, 2015 at 9:25 PM Comments comments (0)

THE URGE TO KILL

 

The day began to heat up as we moved out into the arid open spaces of the California desert. We stopped to gas up and recharge our “air conditioner.” I’m just trying to be funny about the air conditioner. Auto air conditioners were not standard equipment in those days. We had to invent our own method of cooling off. What we did was go in the bathroom at each service station we stopped at, take off our tee shirts and soak them in the sink. Without wringing the water out we’d put the shirts back on, run jump in the car and sizz off with the vent windows turned in on us. That was good for no more than five or ten miles of semi-relief before the hot desert air sucked the shirts dry. The only problem with our makeshift “air conditioner” was that it blew hot air.

It was definitely hot. The few cars we met on that lonely stretch of highway seemed to float three feet above the pavement, riding the shimmering heat waves. They connected to the highway again as they drew closer. About every five minutes Jackie would pop his favorite question: “Are we there yet?”

“Good grief, Jackie! This is the Mo-havvie Desert! Just take a look around…does this look like Tennessee to you, huh?” The first flush of excitement and adventure was definitely beginning to wear off.

We labored up a long incline crossing the San Gabriel mountains, the motor straining to pull the weight of us and our stuff. We almost made it to the top when the gas vaporized again. We pulled over on the shoulder of the road and got out. The world suddenly became very quiet. I had never been anywhere as quiet as it was out there, far from city or farm. Far from people. I doubted if even animals could live in that heat. I sure didn’t see any.

I imagined I could hear sand settling. When I listened closely the silence was more like a faint whisper, or a long sigh drifting across the desert. The view was endless. League upon league of grey sand, rock and cactus. We had somehow managed to have a stallout smack in the middle of a vast, empty land, with nothing in sight to encourage the heart as far as help was concerned. There was absolutely no traffic in sight either way. We could see probably twenty miles of our back trail, but not a speck appeared. A body could have laid down right there in the middle of that blacktop highway and taken a nap…only they would have found themselves fried to death when they woke up! Wasn’t much danger of being run over though.

When we had gotten out of the car the radiator was hissing, so Mick went to loosen the cap to let off some pressure. The cap was blistering hot when he touched it, so he raised his foot to kick it loose. The sole of that shoe was all that saved him from a blistering steam job. When he kicked it loose, the radiator cap blew off and a geyser of boiling water sprayed against the bottom of Mick’s shoe. He was smart enough to keep his big foot in place against the spout, deflecting the steam until the geyser died down. When it stopped, there wasn’t even a gurgle left in the radiator. Every single drop of water must have boiled out or evaporated.

That took care of one idea that I had been toying with. I had read somewhere that if you got stranded on the desert without water you could drink radiator water in a life-or-death emergency. And this was shaping up to look like a sure enough emergency.

Not that I figured we would actually have to depend on the radiator water to drink. We had a jug of ice water for that, in a big gallon thermos. We had set it out on the fender, figuring to pour some of it into the radiator when it cooled down enough. While we waited I walked out on the desert a ways to have a look around and stretch my legs a bit.

“Boys,” I said, “this here is some real desert! Just look at all that sand, and all them cactuses…”

I was interrupted by a dull “thunk” behind me, and I turned. Leon was standing beside the fender of the car, wiping his mouth with the tail of his shirt. He was looking down at the thermos jug, lying there at his feet, cap off, spilling the last of its precious contents in the thirsty sand.

“Leon!” I screamed, “that’s the last of our water, you ninny!” Suddenly the emergency aspect of our situation took center stage. Forget adding enough water in the radiator to get us going again. Forget my boy scout idea about drinking radiator water. My mouth was already dry as cotton. I began having visions of bones in the sand…

“Well, shoot,” Leon drawled, “I was just gettin’ myself a drink, and the blame jug slipped. Ain’t no big deal anyway. We’ll just stop and fill the dang jug at the next fillin’ station.”

“Leon….” I was trying hard to hold my temper. “Leon, do you see any fillin’ stations out there?” I swung my arm in a wide arc, taking in the empty landscape. “Do you see anything out there? We ain’t seen a sign of a car since we stopped. And here we are in the middle of the Mo-havvie Desert with a dry radiator, a dry water jug, and unless there is something close over on the other side of that hill, this here junk heap ain’t agonna make it to no fillin’ station!”

I had to remind myself that you don’t just arbitrarily kick the slats out of kids littler than you , even if they are your idiot cousin.

The buzzard that landed on a big rock beside the road didn’t make me feel any better about our situation either.

 

We decided to try pushing the car to the top of the hill and coast as far as possible down the other side. Maybe we’d see a place to get some water before we had to start the engine again. But when we stopped to rest at the top of the hill, things didn’t look too encouraging. As far as the eye could see there were only dancing heat waves. No service station. No house. No human. No car. Even the highway seemed to just disappear into a blue haze. Up the creek didn’t seem to be the appropriate phrase for that desert, but the sentiment was the same.

We estimated the downgrade to be about five miles long, so that was hopeful. Maybe we would find something somewhere in all that haze down in the valley. We put the car in neutral, pushed it off and jumped in. The coasting was fine while it lasted, but it didn’t last long, and we didn’t see so much as a ditch with water in it. Finally I had to turn on the ignition and throw her in second gear. The motor caught and I eased the little coupe along the floor of the valley, watching the heat gage climb. We rolled past some barns that had been hidden from view by the haze, but there was no sign of a house, or any life. We didn’t see anything that looked like cattle watering tubs or even a bucket. Nothing.

By this time the motor had gotten about as hot as it could get. The heat needle had probably made three revolutions and the motor was making a sound like shaking a washtub full of gravel. Then we topped out on a little rise and suddenly found ourselves at the junction of Route 66. We had made it to Barstow. There at the intersection, like a beautiful mirage, was a wonderful little service station. I breathed a sigh of relief and pulled in to the pump. We had everything filled to capacity with gas, oil and above all, water. We also filled ourselves to capacity with soft drinks. We could hear our stomachs sloshing as we walked back the car and got in.

 

Details of the next leg of our journey are foggy in my memory. I don’t, for instance, remember eating anything on the entire trip, but undoubtedly we did, or Mick would have died. We drove through the night. When my eyes began to cross, Mick took the wheel and I slept, sitting up in the passenger seat. We crossed Arizona that night. The next morning I was driving somewhere in New Mexico, trying to convince myself that the motor didn’t sound any worse than it did when we left Barstow. I traded with Mick again and slept while he drove. Leon and Jackie could sleep anytime they wanted to, which was most of the time. We began to feel like some kind of crop – grown to the car.

 


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