Category Archives: From My Teens

#TBT: Verbal Brutality: Still Life in Words

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Friend of mine has started restoring his high school ride. It’s a ’68 GTO. I started thinking about this post from November 21, 2011.

You ever get something on your mind and you cannot move on to something else because you can’t concentrate with THAT thought rolling around in your head? You know, kind of like getting “It’s a Small World After All” stuck in your head on an endless loop? I’ve run into such a syndrome this fine Monday morning.

I was balancing out the checkbook from the weekend, pretty much the way I do every Monday, and I uncovered a couple of bills had slid or slipped or — knowing me — been placed under a stack of other papers. One was the water bill and of course it was overdue so I went online and paid it immediately since Budge doesn’t ask for much, but running water IS one of her requirements.

Anyway, after settling up those couple of bills and scheduling out the taxes (which were ALSO resting comfortably under the aforementioned pile) I realized we had about a third of the money I’d hoped we’d have for Christmas. Now, please understand, that’s nothing unusual. Since I got fired, money is always tight around here.

It was just a little disheartening to get socked this early on a Monday morning AFTER my awesome new-to-me laptop decided to lose it’s mind (and LCD screen) AND after spilling a heaping cup of Domino’s Extra Fine Granulated Sugar all over the counter and floor as I was making tea. I just wasn’t in the mood to be reminded of this particular incident, but . . . what’re you gonna do? Thanks to a story I saw on the internet, it was rolling around in my head and I’m hoping telling this story publicly will help exorcise this foul mental demon. After all, I need the room up there.

So without further fanfare, I want to tell about the most brutal, most condescending, most intentionally hurtful thing ANYONE has ever said to me. Names have been changed to show how even with BPD, Dysthymic Disorder, anger management problems, and all my other issues I’m just telling a story; I’m not out for revenge or trying to hurt anyone.

My Papa John had a 1965 Pontiac GTO he was insanely proud of. He loved that car. When I was small, he would put me on his lap and let me steer it down the highway. The GTO died when I was in middle school, but instead of getting rid of it, Papa took it down to our little white church and put it up on jack stands (not blocks) and threw a nice cover over it. Our plan was for me to “fix it up” and drive it once I got to high school and got my own job. Apparently, at some point, the antagonist of this story — a filthy rich Pontiac aficionado, found out about the GTO and offered to buy it from Papa John. Now, folks, Israel will give up the West Bank of Jordan and leave Jerusalem before my Papa John would have sold the GTO. So he said, “No thank you.” Undeterred, the guy would make papa the same offer several times over the years.

Then in my senior year of high school, Papa John had his first major debilitating stroke. It wasn’t his first stroke, but it was the first one to take him out of action for an extended period of time. Papa John gave me the title to the GTO and said, in his newly slurred speech, to go ahead with our plans and as soon as he got well, we’d work on the car together.

Unfortunately, I found out restoring cars is a rich man’s hobby. Even repairing the GTO enough to return it to the road proved to be beyond my means with my high school jobs. By then, I’d had it towed from the church to a friend of mine’s house who had a full on shop where I planned to do the work. Fortunately, the GTO wasn’t eating anything, didn’t cost much in taxes, and was more or less safe from the elements. I figured circumstances would change eventually and I could complete the restoration.

Once the Pontiac guy found out about Papa’s stroke, he started turning up the heat on ME to sell him the car. Please bear in mind I had all the same issues back then I do now, BUT I didn’t know anything was wrong with me, I just thought I was a raging asshole with a hair trigger temper. So I said, “No.” When he kept asking, I upped my response to “Hell no.”

Then, one night after I’d had a pretty disastrous day, the phone rang. This was in the pre-caller id days or I’d never have answered it. It was, of course, the Pontiac guy. We started going through the usual preliminary small talk expected of Southern men even if they DO hate each other but this time, he had a different tactic. He went straight for the guts. He said, “Shannon, I’ll tell you, I’ve been trying to buy that piece of $#@! GTO from your grandfather and now you for too long and I’m just going to be straight with you, John’s never going to drive again and you’ll never get that car running on what you make at a grocery store– you need to sell me that car tonight if for no other reason than

(here it comes)

(the ugliest thing anyone’s ever said to me even to this day)

I know you are dirt poor and could desperately use the money.”

I didn’t have anything to say. The saddest part was how right he was. At that particular moment, all the fight went out of me. With tears in my eyes, but not my voice (pride is a dangerous thing) I told him I’d leave the title and the key with Bobby (the guy who owned the shop where I had the car) after school the next day and he could pick them and the car up and drop off a check whenever. What he gave for our beloved GTO wouldn’t buy a set of tires today.

Now here is one of my life’s greatest ironies, I went to high school with the Pontiac guy’s son. Later on, I would be roommates in college with his son and dude became one of the best friends I’ve ever had. I could always count on him and still can.

I never mentioned the conversation with his father to my buddy. He knew where the car came from but not the circumstances. He also knew I loved old cars so he’d update me on his dad’s latest restoration projects. To this day, thirty years later, the GTO sits in a warehouse in Laurens County, protected from the elements, but still far from my planned glorious outcome for it. I doubt it’ll ever see the road again.

I don’t think St. Peter allows driving where Papa’s gone to now. It’s most likely hard to get tire marks off golden pavement, so I doubt Papa could care less.

As for me, whenever I see a 1965 GTO on the road, on TV or in a magazine, to this day, I taste bile and — more than that — dirt in my mouth for hours afterwards.

Love y’all, keep those feet clean, and be careful what you say to each other.

#TBT: They Aren’t Loaded; They Just Smell Bad

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My Engine looked like this.I ran this post back in summer 2011. Then, Budge and I got pulled over recently and the way the traffic stop went reminded me of this particular event. Hope you like it.

Lately, I have taken to perusing the classified ads gathered on Craigslist.com. Yesterday, I found the car of my dreams could be mine for $25K or the best offer. The car was a 1969 Chevelle SS 396, and it was hauntingly similar to Marilyn, the ’69 Chevelle SS 396 Daddy bought for me after I wrecked my beloved ’79 Mustang.

Like the car in Craigslist, Marilyn had a Chevy big block 396 cubic inch engine under the hood bolted to a racing transmission. I loved that car. I miss that car every day. I sold her to help pay for my last semester of college and to take care of some debts I owed. If I had it to go over with again — knowing what I know now — I’d have kept the car, bad credit be damned, and dropped out of college. By now, the car would be worth more than my degree is anyway and I’m pretty sure I’d be a lot happier with the car than I’ve been with the degree.

Marilyn looked just like this only with white SS stripes on the hood and trunk lid and a white interior.

Looking at that Chevelle in the classifieds, then looking at the weatherman promising a week of sweltering days ahead led me back in my mind to the summer when I was 17 and had just gotten Marilyn on the road with her newly rebuilt, highly tuned engine.

Back then, gas was hovering around $1.25 for the premium her engine required, which was good because Marilyn would pass anything on the road but a gas station. I used to joke with my buddies how she got 60 mpg, until I dropped the engine and transmission in, then the mileage went down to about 7 mpg . . . downhill . . . with a tailwind . . . and no passengers.

She was NOT an economy car. Of course, I knew that when I built her, but I couldn’t have cared less. Why should I? I was a teenage boy with a decent job and no bills, a pretty girlfriend, and what at the time looked like a great life full of promise ahead of me. In short, life was good and the days were long; it was summertime in South Carolina.

The particular day I remember was exceptionally hot. We’re talking “two hobbits climbing Mount Doom” HOT, and unlike the complete restoration I found in Craigslist, Marilyn didn’t have one nice luxury — AIR CONDITIONING. Now, she had the vent system, controls, and spot on the firewall where an A/C unit had been when she left Detroit, but in the 20 years between that day and the one in question, the unit had disappeared. I had every intention of replacing the climate control right up until I found out doing so would cost $2000 — in 1987 dollars. On my $3 per hour stocking job at Community Cash, the likelihood of me getting such a head of lettuce together was somewhere between slim and none, and slim had saddled up and left town.

Since I didn’t have the factory A/C, I made use of an aftermarket system called the 2WD70MPH model. That was short for “2 windows down going 70 miles per hour.” As long as Marilyn was moving she stayed cool. You did NOT want to be stuck in traffic though. In addition to the scorching ambient heat, it is amazing how much heat a pair of aluminum headers on a 396 cubic inch Chevy big-block generate as they pass right under your feet. My car was HOT in more ways than one.

Due to this lack of climate control, it was my custom in those days to drive shirtless and shoeless. At the time, I could still take my shirt off without getting complaints from the International Space Station about the glare, or some crazy man with a peg leg and a harpoon trying to stab me while shouting “Thar she blows!” I actually had a waist. Like I said, it was 1987.

Now, here’s an important tidbit of information — in the state of South Carolina, it is illegal to drive barefooted. Did you know that? Guess what? Neither did I, and thereupon hangs the rest of this story.

I was on my way to Gray Court from Laurens running about 85 mph up Highway 14 with my AC/DC “Back In Black” CASSETTE TAPE (!!!! remember those anybody? !!!) cranked to 11 when I passed the old fruit market in Barksdale. Did you know that stretch of road happens to be a 55 mph speed limit zone? Guess what? NEITHER DID I! However, the nice man in the grey car with the blue lights who pulled out behind me would enlighten me once all the soon ensuing excitement died down.

So, to set the scene, Smokey Bear was behind me and the road was too straight and the day too bright for me to out run him. I was caught dead to rights. Reluctantly, I pulled over, cut Marilyn off, and waited. Trooper Douglas walked up beside my the car and said, in the same half-bored, half-irritated tone I’d heard quite a few times before, “Son, get your license and registration and step out of the car.” Remember how I said I drove barefooted? Now imagine how hot the asphalt on the highway had to be. No way I was “stepping out of the car” barefooted. I needed to get my pair of blue canvas Nikes (!!!! remember those anybody? !!!) and put them on.

Guess where they were? Under the seat.

But there was just one of him. Of course, he was PLENTY.

Gentle friends, a word of advice — should need ever arise for you to retrieve something, ANYTHING, from under the seat of a hot rod in the middle of July with a large and somewhat aggravated member of law enforcement standing beside your open window . . . tell the man (or woman) what you need and what you are about to do before you move. No one ever gave me such sage advice, so I didn’t say anything; I just nodded, quickly reached down between my legs, and stuck my right hand under the seat almost to the elbow.

At that point, the day got a lot more interesting.

For reasons I now understand perfectly, but had no concept of then, Trooper Douglas took exception to me reaching under the seat for some unknown, unseen object and  being a man of action, reached through the open window, seized me under the left armpit and with ONE ARM snatched me bodily through the open window, flipped me — shirtless and spreadeagled — across Marilyn‘s hood, drew and thumb-cocked his .357 magnum service revolver (1987, no Glocks), then placed said revolver’s muzzle right against my left temple with his hand still pressing me firmly into the sheet metal of the hood.

As a matter of fact, that hole DID look this big or maybe a mite bigger.

Time stopped.

Somewhere off in the distance a mourning dove cooed out his sad song. A lone dog barked. I heard a radio across the meadow playing Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried”. My nose was filled with the smell of chest and thigh flesh roasting on the superheated sheet-metal of my car hood. I remember thinking two things quite clearly and quickly. First, I thought,”Well, Mama, wearing clean underwear whenever I went out presupposes the underwear would still be clean once they examine my body.” In this case, it most certainly wasn’t. Second, I thought, “This is gonna hurt bad, but at least it ain’t gonna hurt long.”

After an eternity, Trooper Douglas spoke and his voice rolled down like Moses commanding the Red Sea to part for the Children of Israel, “Son, just what in the hell (pronounced in the stereotypical Southern lawman two syllable way “hay-yill”) do you think you are reaching for?”

Somehow or another, a primitive part of my brain realized my survival depended on the careful wording of my answer so I said, somewhere between a sob and a whimper, “Um, shoes, sir; my canvas Nikes, Sir. They are under my seat and I promise they aren’t loaded; they just smell real bad.”

Love y’all. Stay cool, keep your feet clean, and drive with your shoes on in South Carolina.

 

#TBT: Daddy’s not the Cadillac Kind

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These boys sang my life story.

These boys sang my life story.

I wrote this for Fathers’ Day five years ago. With Fathers’ Day coming up Sunday, I thought I would rerun it and maybe Daddy will see it. Hope you like it.

Driving home from supper last night, Budge and I heard Confederate Railroad singing their hit song, “Daddy Never Was The Cadillac Kind.” Now the boys in Confederate Railroad wrote the two songs that perfectly sum up my relationships with my parents. Mama’s ringtone from the day I was able to get mp3 ringtones was “Jesus and Mama” by Confederate Railroad; they wrote that song for me and her, they just didn’t know it. Then Daddy fits just perfectly with “Cadillac Kind.”  In the second verse of the song, the narrator is describing how he told his Daddy about buying a nice big new car. In his words, “Daddy asked how I bought it; I told him on credit, and Daddy just smiled, I’ll never forget it.” That brings to mind one of the most memorable conversations I ever had with Daddy and, this being Father’s Day, I thought I’d tell it as an interlude in my beach recollection.

So here’s what happened. I was eighteen and fresh out of high school in fall of 1989. I’d already abandoned my plan to go to Clemson University with some friends of mine and instead was working at Advance Auto Parts and planned to start classes at Greenville Tech later in the year. Each of those items is worth a story in its own right, and maybe I’ll tell them one day, but for now, suffice it to say I was in the grip of new car fever. For the last few months, I’d parked Marilyn — my ’69 Chevelle SS that would pass everything on the road but a gas station — and started driving a little Ford Fiesta, which is another story worth vignette. In any event, I was through with used cars and wanted to buy something new, so one Friday afternoon, I picked up my check from Advance and went with Mama to what was then Crossroads Chevrolet between Mauldin and Simpsonville.

What I went to get!

What I went to get!

I knew exactly what I wanted and it was sitting in the showroom when we walked in. It was a 1990 Chevrolet Camaro IROC Z-28, smoke grey with factory tinted windows, t-tops, and high pro v-8 engine. Sticker price was $22,999.00, which was a ton of money in 1989.

I pointed to the car when the salesman walked up and told him that’s what I intended to buy. He opened the driver side door, got me seated, went around and got in the passenger’s seat, handed me the keys, and I was off on my first test drive ever. Five miles of curvy roads and one carsick and extremely pale salesman later, we were back on the lot and then in his little cubicle. I filled out a mile of paperwork and signed my name to hundreds of forms. Mama didn’t have to sign anything. I was so proud. He said it would be about two hours before he could give us “a decision.” So we went to eat lunch.

Right here, I need to explain something to y’all I’m not really proud of, but it is a fact of my existence. I suck at all things financial. Growing up, I never learned to save because we never had enough money around to have anything left over to save. I didn’t get an allowance, if I was with Mama, she bought what I needed or wanted if she had the money and if she didn’t, I did without. It’s where I picked up a phrase I use to this day to answer someone saying, “I want X or Y.” My answer is “People in Hell want ice water too.” If I was with Daddy, it was the same way. So I just never learned how to handle money well. I knew people got paid on Thursday and it was their job to spend it all because I figured if anything was left the next Wednesday, they’d come back and get it. I’m serious about this. To this day, if I’m not constantly vigilant, I can go through a pile of money of any size like poop through a goose and have a ball doing it. I lived with Mama and Mama’s budget was the same as what I use today. It’s called the Pile Method. You get paid, put the money in the bank, and sit down with a checkbook and a pile of bills and write out payments until the money or the pile is gone. Some weeks the money won, most weeks the pile won. To this day, I do that with only a little variation. So again, I suck at all things financial.

After lunch, we went back to the showroom where the very somber faced salesman sadly gave me the news that GMAC Financial had refused my loan application on the Camaro. I was heartbroken and he almost got to see a big boy bawl. I wanted that car so bad I could taste it. He saved the day, however, by telling me he HAD gotten me approved for another vehicle. He took the lead and showed me, at the very back of the lot, the vehicle I would drive off the lot with that day. It was a 1989 Chevy S-10 Cameo EL pickup truck — base model, sticker price $7999. Now when I say “base model” I don’t mean “no power windows” or something like that; I mean it didn’t have a RADIO — just a hole in the dash covered by a blockoff plate. No power steering, no power brakes, no NOTHING. It was a 4 cylinder 5 speed manual drivetrain and it DID have A/C, but only because GM wouldn’t ship a car below the Mason-Dixon Line without A/C and expect to sell it.

And what I got.

And what I got.

I paid $200 down and signed my name to a loan agreement of $184 per month. The salesman handed me the keys, I kissed Mama on the cheek, and took off in my new ride to show Daddy what a big boy I was. Daddy had just gotten home from eight hours at Laurens Glass Plant. He was sitting in the shade of his workshop shed and stood up when I pulled into the yard. Looking back now, it’s hard to believe I was 18, which made Daddy 38 years old. I walked up the hill and asked him how he liked “my new truck!” He looked at it thoughtfully for a long moment, then turned and the conversation progressed like this:

Daddy asked me, “How much was it?” I told him, “$7999.00.” He nodded.

Then he asked, “What’d you put down on it?” I told him, “$200.00.” He nodded again.

Then he wanted to know if Mama had co-signed with me and I proudly told him she had not; I was grown and making my own way in the world. I thought I was doing well and was smiling like a bloodhound pooping peach pits. Then Daddy asked his next question.

“What’s your payment?”  “$184 per month, sir!” That brought a wince, but the next few questions almost got me killed.

“How many months?” “Um, I don’t know?” Frown.

“What’s your interest rate?” Again, I had to say “Um, I don’t know?” That wasn’t the right answer.

“So, you just bought a truck? No idea how many payments? Don’t know the interest rate? Do you have the paperwork you signed?” I just nodded. “Go get it.” I went and got it and when I brought it back to Daddy, he sat down in the door of his workshop and read over everything, which was the first time anyone but the salesman read those papers. Apparently, he found the payment schedule AND the interest rate because he looked up at me.

He didn’t look angry, he didn’t even look upset. The best way I can describe his face was the way Jackie Gleason’s face looked during this scene in Smokey and the Bandit. He said, “You are paying $184.00 for SIXTY months. That’s FIVE years, son.” I didn’t know what to say. He continued, “You are paying 16% interest! You are basically buying that truck on a credit card!” Once again, I didn’t have any idea what to say. He finished up, “You just saw a truck you wanted and the man got you in it however he could. I wish you had come to me, son, and we could have gone together.” You may notice a pattern here, but I still didn’t know what to say. Finally, Daddy just smiled the same exasperated smile Budge says I use with her sometimes and said, “C’mon. Take me for a ride in your new truck.”

Twenty-five years later, I know the interest rate of every loan, credit card, and savings account I have and it’s all because of one conversation. I also know why Daddy was so aggravated about the interest rate. See, he bought his and Teresa’s house they live in now during the height of the Jimmy Carter administration. Daddy paid 17% interest on that house and it made him hate interest in all its forms; think about that the next time you hear a commercial for refinancing at 4%!

That’s my Daddy.

Happy Fathers Day to all the daddies out there and y’all be sure to keep your feet clean!

Love y’all.

#TBT: Speak Softly and Carry a Frying Pan

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I just passed my 5th Mother’s Day without Mama. I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately so I decided to repost this from not long after she first passed away. It’s still one of my favorite stories about her and me. Ironically, my grass needs cutting right now and I don’t want to do it anymore than I did then. It’s originally from May 10, 2013. Hope you like it.

As I face my first Mother’s Day without Mama, I thought I’d tell y’all one of my favorite stories ever about me and Mama. I have been known to embellish my tales, but this one is the absolute truth.

I was sixteen and as a byproduct of such a sage and wizened age, I knew everything about everything and if you didn’t believe me, all you had to do was ask. Mama was 34 — a year younger than my Budge is right now. We were living in “The Little Barn,” which was our name for the 1960-something vintage trailer we called home for several years. It pretty much was a barn, no central heat . . . no heat at all in the back of the house where my room was . . . and no central air, just a window unit mounted in the wall in the living room. The carpet was hand-me-down from my aunt after she’d changed rugs at her place. It was a sight for sore eyes and it rocked like a sailboat in a hurricane when the wind blew, but it was home.

This is what I cut grass with .  .  .  no lie.

This is what I cut grass with . . . no lie.

Anyway, this particular day was a Thursday right around this time of year. I remember it well because the grass needed to be cut and that was my job. I never particularly looked forward to cutting our grass because my instrument for mowing our 3/4 acre lot was a 19 inch bladed push mower and it was decidedly not self-propelled. This was also in the days before wonder drugs like Claritin, Zyrtec, and Allegra had been invented. I’ve chronicled my battle with hay fever before in these pages so I won’t go into great detail now, but suffice it to say by the time I finished cutting all that volunteer fescue with my Fisher-Price toy lawnmower, I could either endure the rest of the day sneezing and itching or take two Benadryl capsules and slip into a coma. But I digress.

It was a Thursday and I had three things propelling me towards my doom: my new ’79 Mustang, a newly upgraded drivers license, and daylight. A few years later at Clemson University, weekends always started on Thursdays, but a young man tearing out the door after supper on what was still a school night then was severely frowned upon in Mama’s household.

I had one hand on the doorknob with visions of picking up Robby and just wandering around the countryside telling lies, going a little too fast around curves, listening to loud music, and hoping to catch a glimpse of that elusive creature — the beautiful teenage girl. Mama was washing the dishes from supper and at that moment, she was cleaning out the 12″ cast iron frying pan (or skillet to you yankees among my limited readership) she’d used to fry my favorite breaded okra with earlier in the evening. She had just placed that hunk of pig iron on the stove eye where it lived when she noticed me still in “school clothes” and fixing to walk out the door. She turned back to the sink and as she did, she asked me a question — a simple question really — that would change my estimation of Mama for the rest of my life. She said, “Son, where are you going?”

I could have answered with any number of phrases, the absolute truth being best, that I was going to get Robby, put a few hard Community Cash earned dollars worth of gas in the car and drive around wasting time and daylight. That’s all I had to say and the evening would have simply progressed on. Unfortunately, I was sixteen and a boy. I also possessed one of the smartest mouths in three counties and I had a delightful talent for opening it at the wrong time and letting it say the wrong thing. Tonight, my smart mouth shoved my much less bulky good sense out of the way and blurted one word, “OUT!”

Mama paused in her dishwashing and visibly tensed, but she almost immediately went back to the suds in the sink and her back asked me a second innocuous question, “Okay, and when do you plan on being back?” Once I let my mouth off its rather long chain, it had a tendency to overdo things so I missed the chance to have a pleasant evening when I replied with yet another one word answer, “LATER!”

Again, Mama tensed up. I learned later on that weekend that I had just used the same intonation, phrasing, and even voice patterns my Daddy used when he and Mama were dating and later on when they were still married and he was off to do some mischief. Mama HATED that “Out; Later” nonsense coming from Daddy. She didn’t like it any better coming from me, but what happened next is what sealed my fate. She had again started washing the dishes and softly, without turning around, she said, “That’s funny, son. Now really, where are you going and when do you plan on being back? It’s a school night.”

Gentle reader, have you ever had an out of body experience where you have seemed to stand beside yourself as you did something unbelievably stupid and your astral self is screaming at your physical self “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger, Will Robinson!” But your physical self just plowed right on through that big red mental STOP sign up ahead? Well, that’s how I felt when I spoke next.

I was sixteen and basically grown — in my own eyes — and I had a car Daddy had bought me so Mama had no business telling ME — A MAN — where to go, do, and be back. As Daddy had famously told her himself on more than one occasion “No damn woman is going to tell me what to do.” So, I spoke again and very nearly paid for my words with my life when I said, loudly with all the confidence of a teenage boy who feels ten feet tall and bulletproof, “IT’S NONE OF YOUR (horrible expletive I’d never used in front of Mama deleted) BUSINESS WHERE I’M GOING OR WHEN (second horrible never used in Mama’s presence expletive deleted) I PLAN TO BE BACK! I’M A GROWN MAN!”

In the right hands, deadly weapon.

In the right hands, deadly weapon.

As God whom I serve is my witness, I didn’t know that little woman could move that fast. In one smooth, swift motion, she pivoted on her left foot, snatched up that cast iron frying pan in her right hand, and stepped and threw a sidearm cookware fastball that would have made Kent Tekulve blush with shame it was so perfect. I never saw it coming until it was too late to do anything about it. That heavy hunk of iron spun a few times between me and Mama and — mercifully — struck me right in the solar plexus with the lip instead of the handle. If the pan had rotated another half turn, we wouldn’t be having this conversation because I’d have been skewered by an iron handle.

The force of the blow staggered me backwards and I caught my knees on the arm of the sofa, lost my balance, and sprawled backwards, arms flailing, to land flat on my back after cracking my skull on the coffee table on the way down. As I lay there in a dazed stupor with my head and chest throbbing while my feet still twitched in the air on the sofa cushion like a mosquito on a date with DDT, I heard the refrigerator door open, something get removed, and footsteps coming towards me. Before I could clear my head at all, Mama slung the contents of the ice water pitcher all over my face and upper body, causing me to sit up and split my forehead on the bottom of the coffee table as I rose.

As I sat spluttering and breathless, Mama put her face millimeters away from mine, which was good because my eyes were having trouble focusing, and said very quietly and carefully, “You will never speak to me in that manner again; do you understand?” I could only nod my most vehement, impassioned assent. Then she said, “When you get your breath back, you get up, change clothes, and go cut the grass, yes?”

My pride was soaked and my head and chest were pained but that skinny bundle of good sense had whipped and hog-tied my smart mouth for a change so all I could croak was, “Yes, ma’am,” as Mama nodded and walked off.

I love her still and God knows I miss her.

Love y’all as well, keep those feet clean, and as you honor or remember your own mothers this Sunday, if you’d say a prayer for me, I’d certainly appreciate it.

Of Aiding and Abetting

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Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather The multitudinous seas incarnadine, Making the green one red.

It might surprise people who know me and those who follow this blog to learn that I am an accessory before the fact to premeditated murder. The case never came to trial; in fact, no arrests have ever been made, but lately, to quote Eminem, “I’ve been cleaning out my closet” and the guilt I’ve toted over this incident in my life — in my youth (not an excuse, just time frame) — has grown heavier over time. Writing about this unhappy episode isn’t going to change anything. It won’t erase my part in a sad story. In fact, I don’t know what is behind the overwhelming compulsion to preempt my usual World War I post to air out this particular load of dirty laundry. I just know it’s time I told my part.

Anyone now expecting sordid details, copious finger-pointing, and salacious name naming is going to be sorely disappointed. I will name no names but my own. The guilt others feel, if any, is theirs alone to continue hiding or expose to the world. To my knowledge, less than ten, maybe fifteen, people know any of this story. Again, as far as I know, only about five know the entire tale and I’m not one of them.

I was one of the few members of my circle of friends to have a job during high school. The majority of my closest associates relied on regular, sizable handouts from upper middle class parents for spending money, gas money, and any other teen essentials. Daddy provided me with a car and when I wrecked it, he bought me another one. Mama paid my auto insurance and kept a roof over my head. If I wanted to party, date, or in any other way raise Hell, the funds to do so were up to me to obtain so I went to work the week after I turned 15 and I worked as hard as I could for the next twenty-five years until my deteriorating mental health landed me on government disability.

Late in my senior year of high school, I attended a huge bash at the spacious and beautiful ranch of one of my inner circle of friends. Alcohol flowed freely, but I consumed precious little because I was in a black mood. I had begun a downward spiral that would take two decades to land me in Carolina Behavioral Center, but I didn’t know that at the time. I was still operating under the assumption I was a prickly, hard-to-like asshat.

In any event, one of my comrades in arms for most of my life showed up at this party with his flavor of the month. After a few visits to the keg and a shot or two from the pickup truck tailgate bar, he and said girl disappeared, as had several couples during the night, to “explore” the ranch grounds. They eventually found their way to the hay barn and proceeded to give literal meaning to “a roll in the hay.” When I saw them next, a couple of hours later, they were both wearing looks of deep chagrin . . . not horror, not disgust, and not worry . . . they just looked chagrined. Upon a conversational investigation, I ascertained during the aforementioned hay roll, their preferred barrier method of contraception had suffered a catastrophic failure and they worried about the ramifications of this potential disaster. A couple of hours after this revelation, I left the party and by morning had forgotten all about their quandary.

My selective amnesia continued for approximately six weeks until the phone rang unusually early on a Saturday morning. My friend was on the other end of the line, “Wham,” he said, “Could you come over please, I need some help.” I’ve made it my policy throughout my life to go whenever and wherever any of my friends call. This willingness to demonstrate my loyalty has caused me no small amount of suffering through the years, and I’ve seldom encountered any like-minded reciprocity from those I have helped, even those I’ve helped greatly, but I can only control my behavior. What others do is between them and their conscience.

I arrived at my friend’s home a short time to find him still lying in bed wearing a perfectly haggard look on top of his t-shirt and sweatpants. He got straight to the point, saying, “Wham, I need to borrow some money.” Now you know the purpose for that seemingly random paragraph about my work history above. I laughed a bit and replied, “Why don’t you ask your dad or grandpa? They can give you a whole lot more than me and you won’t have to pay them back!” He looked at me and simply said, “I’m trying not to involve my parents.” I nodded. So, he’d gotten a speeding ticket or some such and didn’t want to catch Hell and endure the inevitable grilling lecture that would surely accompany a bail-out.

So I asked, “Okay, how much is the ticket and how fast were you going?” He looked away and shook his head, “It’s not a ticket, Wham. It’s something else.” I found that odd, but — you know — loyalty. I said, “Well, okay. How much do you need then?” He then looked me in the face and said, “$247.00” I know my face blanched because that’s what it always does when I’m overcome with some emotions. See, I’d had conversations with other friends and acquaintances about the high cost of living, and one particular item came up a few times and it always cost $247.00. He went to speak, but I put up my hand.

He fell silent and I pulled out my wallet — I didn’t carry a man-purse back then — and pulled out twelve twenty-dollar bills and a ten. It was basically my entire week’s pay with a little overtime. I folded it and handed it to him as he took it, I said, “I don’t want to hear anything else. Don’t bother saying anything. I don’t want to know anymore than I do right now. Never speak to me about this again, don’t bother trying to pay me back, but don’t you dare come to me if you ever have this ‘problem’ again.” He nodded his thanks and I left with a sick stomach knowing I’d just become an accessory to murder — premeditated murder.

I don’t know other people’s politics or views on what I paid for. I know — if statistics are to be trusted (ha,ha) — probably half of you think I did nothing wrong. In some other cases, I’d be happy to agree with you, but not this one. This was a healthy mother and father with no genetic issues. No life was on the line. No one was in any danger . . . except the danger of scandal. To follow through with this would just have been “inconvenient” and might have “shut some doors” in the future. Both were headed for college, after all. Never mind this “problem” could have been the answer to some infertile couple’s prayers and dreams. This is the type of adoptibility social workers and agencies dream of.

The scandal though. The gossip. The “inconvenience” of the matter. Nine months are too long to hide and people were bound to find out. After all, who were they hurting? This was the late 1980’s, not the 1950’s. They weren’t interested in marrying each other, which — and don’t lose the irony — my friend’s parents did years earlier when they had the same “problem.” I happened to be with him the day he found his birth certificate and his parent’s marriage license and did some quick math . . . it wasn’t pretty. As far as I know, the two of them only went on one more “date.” No one was the wiser and no one seemed bothered at all. To this day, if it bothers him or her, they’ve done masterful jobs at hiding it.

It’s bothered me for years though, and even though I know it is theologically untenable, I can’t help but wonder when I’m at my lowest points if my part in such a sin — yes, SIN, S.I.N. damn it all, call a spade a spade for God’s sake, right is right and wrong is wrong whether you’re an atheist, Buddhist, agnostic, or Hindu– has something to do with why I don’t have children today. Rationally, I know it doesn’t work that way, but sometimes I have a hard time being rational.

Love y’all. Keep those feet clean.

 

My July 4th Memory – “The Rick Camp” Game

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My Rick Camp 1978 Topps baseball card.

My Rick Camp 1978 Topps baseball card.

Independence Day isn’t grilling burgers or franks, shooting off loads of fireworks, or fun in the Sun on the water; it’s baseball. One game in particular recalls everything which makes baseball the greatest of games — a game where anything can happen on any given pitch and any player from any position can change the history of the game. I watched my game of all Independence Day games with my beloved Papa Wham on Thursday to Friday, July 4 – 5, 1985.

That night, the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets sent their aces — Dwight Gooden for the Mets, Rick Mahler for the Braves — to the mound. Instead of the advertised pitcher’s duel, they were both chased by the fourth inning. Fifteen MORE innings, THREE long rain delays, and a BUNCH of pitchers later, the game would become known in baseball lore as “The Rick Camp” Game.

By the time the final rain delay was over, the game was in the bottom of the 8th with the Braves losing 7-4, which was pretty typical for the 1980s Braves. Finally, however, the Braves’ bats came alive; they scored four times to take an 8-7 lead.

Then things started to get weird.

The Mets tied the game up in the top of the ninth by rocking famous Braves closer Gene Garber for a run. The home team failed to push anyone across in the bottom half of the frame and the free baseball began. It looked like things would be decided in “typical” extra innings when the Mets scored twice in the top of the 13th, but the Braves managed to knot the game up again when Terry Harper jacked a two run homer. Harper came to the plate TEN times in the game and managed five hits. That’s something not many baseball players can boast about.

The game went back to deadlock for the next five innings and then the Braves ran out of position players as pinch hitters. With nobody left on the bench to hit for him, and behind by a run, the Braves sent right-handed PITCHER Rick Camp, a lifetime .060 hitter, to the plate. With Camp behind in the count 0-2 — just as pitchers are supposed to be — Mets reliever Tom Gorman grooved a fastball “right down Peachtree Street” and Rick Camp sent it over the left field fence and into baseball history, tying the game.

What most people, including me, tend to forget after such a huge event is the Braves ended up LOSING the game in the next inning when the Mets got five runs in the top of the 19th. The Braves would get two back in the bottom of the inning, but Rick Camp couldn’t make the lightning strike twice and struck out to — finally, mercifully — end the game. It was 3:55 AM, July 5, six hours and ten minutes after it began.

The box score from the game took almost an entire column in the paper. Both teams used seven pitchers and combined for 46 hits. In a terrible bit of irony, Rick Camp proved a worse pitcher than hitter that fateful night, working three innings giving up 5 earned runs and going down as the losing pitcher.

The handful of remaining fans got to see the July 4th Fireworks Show start at 4:01am. Papa and I watched the entire thing; we both slept late the next morning.

Hope y’all had a great July 4th!

Love y’all; Keep those feet clean.

 

 

 

Some Lessons Are Painful

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Who would have though a car could be a classroom?

Who would have though a car could be a classroom?

I spent some time recently looking back over my life and I realized I’ve learned a lot in my 42 years. I learned a great deal in grade school, a little in college, some at the various jobs I’ve had, etc., but the vast majority of the lessons burned in my memory I learned by simply experiencing life. I’ve noticed these really important lessons tend to come in groups. For example, one of my best buddies and I learned the following lessons in one weekend when we were in high school.

Lesson #1) Common American Wasps can make an extremely large nest fit neatly in the channel of the metal post of a “Curve Ahead” road sign.

Lesson #2) You can remove just about any road sign in America – including ones that say “Curve Ahead” — from the post it is bolted to if you have a pair of ½” box end wrenches.

Lesson #3) It takes a surprising amount of jostling and noise to wake up an extremely large nest of wasps.

Lesson #4) The act of removing a road sign from the metal post it is bolted to then tossing it into the front of a 1982 Pontiac Phoenix creates just the needed amount of jostling and noise to awaken extremely large wasp nests, especially if said wasp nest is attached to said road sign.

Lesson #5) Contrary to some old wives’ tales, wasps have no problem stinging anything at any time, even in the darkness of a 1982 Pontiac Phoenix front seat.

Lesson #6) Unlike the Common Honeybee, the Common American Wasp can sting multiple times without injuring itself in the slightest.

Lesson #7) A standard “Curve Ahead” road sign will not fit through the window of a 1982 Pontiac Phoenix even once the window has been rolled down.

Lesson #8) A 4 cylinder powered 1982 Pontiac Phoenix rolling on 4 bald tires can go from 70 mph to a complete stop in a much shorter distance than GM’s best engineers ever envisioned if 200+ pounds is applied vertically on the brake pedal.

Lesson #9) Driving 80 mph with the windows down and A/C on high in the middle of a humid late spring Southern night creates some type of vortex action that will suck the majority of the occupants of even an oversized wasp nest out of the vehicle.

Lesson #10) Any wasps not sucked out of the aforementioned vehicle will go into a safe-to-handle torpor state so long as the A/C is maintained at maximum output for a minimum of two hours.

Lesson #11) Wasps in a state of torpor can survive without food or water in a 1982 Pontiac Phoenix for at least 48 hours or from late Saturday night to early Monday morning.

Lesson #12)  Hungry and thirsty wasps emerge from a torpor state extremely pissed off.

Lesson #13) A healthy 17 year old white male of average build en route to high school can endure multiple stings from the Common American Wasp without perishing or developing super powers.

Lesson #14) South Carolina Highway Patrolmen will not arrest young men dancing around a 1982 Pontiac Phoenix on a main state highway in nothing but their tightie-whities, but they WILL laugh so long and hard they will nearly choke.

Now, don’t you feel edified?

Love y’all. Stay dry, and keep those feet clean.

"Anybody ELSE wanna limp?" Eddie Murphy 48 Hours

“Anybody ELSE wanna limp?”
Eddie Murphy 48 Hours

TLDR

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clenched-fistThis beach trip recollection wasn’t supposed to take this long to finish, but it is what it is. I’m cutting to the chase to tell the story I wanted to tell all along and you’ll see why my senior beach trip caused a sea change in my life that rolls like mighty waters to this day.

A clumsy stumbling woke me up on Thursday morning. I had a hangover stabbing pain in my neck resulting from an earring I barely remembered getting. At least it wasn’t a missing tooth or tribal facial tattoo. Then the day went to hell and pushed me a little farther down a road I had no idea I was on.

I had crashed on the couch; apparently it was as far as I could make it under a rare heavy load of Jack Daniels. Two other members of our entourage had stayed at their girlfriends’ much nicer digs. That meant the last guy sharing our room had the place to himself. Let me call him Adonis for the sake of anonymity. Just know he’s in this picture. He was pretty much perfect in every way that matters to a high school teen. I am firmly in the hetero camp and have always and forever batted from one side of the plate, but he was a gorgeous guy — tall, flowing hair, built like Michelangelo’s David but twice as cold and half as smart. He also came from money, drove an AMAZING car, and was captain of the football team and the wrestling team our senior year. His sculpted jaw line and dazzling physique cast my own self-esteem into such eclipse I told my first great love while we were still dating if she ever left me for Adonis, I would understand and wish her well to which she replied, “That’s great you feel that way ’cause if he ever asks me, I’m gone.”

Yeah, him. Pretty close likeness.

Yeah, him. Pretty close likeness.

Adonis could have whomever he wanted but he always wanted someone other than who he was currently with. Worse, he was like a grim, cruel Polynesian god who demanded a special kind of sacrifice — young virgins. He came down to the beach for a hunt with one quarry: a sophomore, sweet, naive, drop-dead gorgeous, and — like so many other girls — very into Adonis. I’m clear on this last point because she was a pretty good friend of mine then and Adonis was a frequent topic of conversation. Let’s call her Melpomene.  Adonis wanted little Melpomene in an extremely Zeus-like way. To his sorrow, however, she was a member of the “Christian promise ring wearers.” The beach can change things though. In this case, yesternight, Adonis happened upon her at a spirited gathering in another hotel room, which I too happened to attend. It’s germane to note though Mel claimed Christianity often and adamantly, like many of Southern extraction, Melpomene was a “buffet believer,” and though fornication was of the devil, the Almighty tended to wink at a little drunkenness.

Since all but the most obtuse of you see what’s coming, I need to be VERY clear about something, Adonis did nothing illegal nor strictly “wrong.” He DID NOT ply Melpomene with drink. Her cheerleader “friends” took care of that long before he showed up. Furthermore, he DID NOT “force himself” upon her. She was smitten with him and was playing an intense game of tonsil hockey by the time I took my leave of the soiree and — apparently — kept a date with a piercing parlor. Yes, Melpomene was drunk, but I’d have to say she was competent, if veeerrrryy uninhibited.

BoromirStarkStill, Eddard Stark had nothing on the idealistic boy I once was, and though crisp blacks and whites have blurred into greys on the monochromatic palette of grimdark reality, I cling to a few unshakable beliefs, and one is an honorable man sees no difference between a girl “drunk enough to say yes” and one “too drunk to say no.” Regardless after I left, the freshly minted pair went to our fleabag suite of rooms where Adonis put another v-card notch on his lipstick case. Melpomene stumbling from the room wrapped in a sheet to use our facilities woke me to my previously mentioned hangover. Our eyes met; she smiled a sheepish smile then turned away. Back then, I didn’t know what “The Walk of Shame” was.

I took the opportunity to slip into the bedroom and change clothes. The beds were pushed together and Tywin would have been satisfied had Tyrion and Sansa’s chamber been so accoutred following their wedding night. I changed clothes and pointedly ignored Adonis. While getting fresh clothes, I slid something from the bottom of my bag into my pocket. Emotion roiled my guts in a way I hadn’t felt it since I was a child when waves of impotent rage overtook me when someone bullied me, which was often.

In case you didn't know what a balisong is.

In case you didn’t know what a balisong is.

Out on the porch where the rest of the guys gathered, I sat down on the steps and tried to focus on a crack in the sidewalk. By-the-by, Adonis and Mel appeared, attired for the beach. When they reached the bottom step, I stood and drew the balisong from my pocket. I was spared a knowledge of prison life when, just as I stood up, a guy I’ll call “Big Bob” put his hand on my shoulder to gently but firmly press me back down onto the top step. He looked at me, shook his head and — as scalding rage tears wound down my blistered cheeks — quietly said, “I know, but it’s not worth the cost.”

Instead of riding back Saturday with Robby, I packed, met up with two guys from a town near home who were going back that afternoon, passed out from emotional exhaustion in the back seat by the time they left Horry County, and slept until they woke me up in front of The Little Barn. Mama saw the earring soon as I walked in, put her right index fingernail (she had such beautiful long nails) into the pyrite-plated hoop, and snatched it out with the words, “I prayed for a boy; not a girl.”

I’ve wanted to tell that story for a long time. I don’t know why.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

Broken Noses and Broken Hearts at Beach Week ’89

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NOT what you want to see at the beach.

NOT what you want to see at the beach.

Anyway, the week wasn’t off to the greatest start with having to wrestle down and hogtie a skeeved out stoner so I figured it had to get better. Day 2 — rain, and lots of it. This wasn’t a passing shower to cool things down for ten minutes then raise the humidity out the roof. This was what Papa Wham called, “a good soaking rain,” which is great if you are growing corn or some such crop, but it sucks all the life out of a beach trip.

The most immediate danger was just being in the room all together. Too much testosterone confined in too small a space is trouble enough, but add in copious amounts of alcohol and you have the Balkans right before World War I — everyone wants to fight and fight badly, but honor demanded an excuse. “Borrowing beer” was always a great excuse, and two or three times things came to blows in the room over someone taking more than his share of the libations from the fridge or cooler. Luckily, everyone was slightly too drunk to either cause any real physical damage or to feel much of the damage that resulted from the few haymakers that managed to land on the odd jaw or nose.

It’s at this point I need to interject some background about my place in all this mess. While most everyone else was binge drinking to make a sailor proud, I was limiting myself to nursing a couple of Jack and Cokes. Truth be told, I wasn’t a very big drinker throughout high school. The prospect of having to face Mama with liquor on my breath was a buzzkiller every time so I was a pretty light drinker. I would sip a little at parties but I preferred to stay mostly clearheaded and alert enough to talk to anyone in a uniform who happened to show up at the most inopportune moments. Don’t worry though, when I got to college, I quickly made up for lost time.

Typical boys hotel room at the beach.

Typical boys hotel room at the beach.

In the early afternoon of the rain-soaked second day, several of the guys got word their various girlfriends had arrived “in country.” Most of the girls had waited an extra day to come to First Week, ostensibly because it took that much longer for them to pack their suitcases and then get all the suitcases into the 54′ U-Haul trailer to bring the stuff down. Most of us guys had two — maybe three — pairs of shorts, a handful of t-shirts, some swimming trunks, and some type of footwear. I packed everything I needed for the week in one backpack and had plenty of room to spare.

In any event, the arrival of the females of the species meant we wouldn’t see quite a few of the guys anymore that week. For one thing, the girls always stayed in much nicer hotels — the kind with running water and real sheets. Also, just to be honest, several of the guys were giddy at the prospect of finally getting what had been promised, for some since freshman year. I leave the details to the gentle reader’s imagination. Suffice it to say, with no parents around to walk in at the worst possible moments, many couples were, in the words of poet Robert Herrick, “Gather[ing] ye rosebuds while ye may.

Typical girls hotel room at the beach.

Typical girls hotel room at the beach.

Not all my lusty boon companions had perforce waited for the arrival of some maiden fair, however. Several of the guys were at the beach specifically to hunt for foreign eyes, ruby lips and shapely hips, and when you grow up in the booming metropolis of Greater Laurens County, “foreign” is any out-of-state plates — even if the state was Georgia or North Carolina. The siren call of girls strange to them was irresistible and several ended up in whirlwind Beach Week romances. Unfortunately for some of them, their souvenir of the week was a little more than a scrapbook but thankfully nothing Ajax couldn’t get off. They were lucky. In 1989 in the backwaters of South Carolina, we had heard of AIDS, but it was still just a boogeyman, not a real threat, or so we thought. I found out different in college, yet another story for another time.

For my part, senior year had “put me off my feed” insofar as females went. I broke up with the first great love of my life late  junior year in pursuit of greener pastures. By October senior year I realized the pastures were only greener because they sat over septic tanks, so I worked hard to get us back together. For awhile — a few weeks right around Christmas — it seemed we were an item again. Then in late January she disappeared for two weeks and all her dad (who absolutely hated me) would say was, “she’s at her momma’s in Georgia.”

I think that went well; don't you think that went well?

I think that went well; don’t you think that went well?

She came back on a Thursday  just after third nine weeks ended and met me at my locker after school with no fanfare, no “hello”, “how are you”, “kiss my ass” or anything; she just handed me my class ring. The last thing she ever said to me was, “Dean (to this day she is the only person who used my middle name), I’ve got some good news for you and some bad news.” Normally, when someone tells you that, you get to choose which you wish to hear first but in her case she just continued on with, “The good news is — IT’S NOT YOURS — I guess you can figure the bad news out for yourself.” Then she turned and walked out of my life forever and I made an exception to my usual “light drinking rule” for a few days. I made a very interesting discovery during those drunkenly hazy days too — when you are drunker than Cooter Brown, you don’t notice the tandem-axle dump truck load of emotional pain life heaps on you day after day nearly so much. Thus began a long period of self-medicating a clinical depression and personality disorder I didn’t even know I had. Anybody see an eminent train wreck in this locality?

Anyway, twenty-five years on, she’s a mother of three, and grandmother of three more (I’ve discovered all too often Facebook has a way of giving you news you aren’t looking for and don’t really want) and I’m in the midst of a good life with the third and greatest love of my life. My Budge has stayed with me through episodes that would have sent any of my former ex-girlfriends running in terror so it seems all things worked together for the good.

Sorry that I still haven’t finished the story of Senior Week. Actually, I haven’t even gotten to some of the rougher moments. Still, it’s enough for now.

Love y’all, and keep those feet clean . . . unless it’s sand between your toes.

Daddy’s not the Cadillac Kind

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These boys sang my life story.

These boys sang my life story.

Driving home from supper last night, Budge and I heard Confederate Railroad singing their hit song, “Daddy Never Was The Cadillac Kind.” Now the boys in Confederate Railroad wrote the two songs that perfectly sum up my relationships with my parents. Mama’s ringtone from the day I was able to get mp3 ringtones was “Jesus and Mama” by Confederate Railroad; they wrote that song for me and her, they just didn’t know it. Then Daddy fits just perfectly with “Cadillac Kind.”  In the second verse of the song, the narrator is describing how he told his Daddy about buying a nice big new car. In his words, “Daddy asked how I bought it; I told him on credit, and Daddy just smiled, I’ll never forget it.” That brings to mind one of the most memorable conversations I ever had with Daddy and, this being Father’s Day, I thought I’d tell it as an interlude in my beach recollection.

So here’s what happened. I was eighteen and fresh out of high school in fall of 1989. I’d already abandoned my plan to go to Clemson University with some friends of mine and instead was working at Advance Auto Parts and planned to start classes at Greenville Tech later in the year. Each of those items is worth a story in its own right, and maybe I’ll tell them one day, but for now, suffice it to say I was in the grip of new car fever. For the last few months, I’d parked Marilyn — my ’69 Chevelle SS that would pass everything on the road but a gas station — and started driving a little Ford Fiesta, which is another story worth vignette. In any event, I was through with used cars and wanted to buy something new, so one Friday afternoon, I picked up my check from Advance and went with Mama to what was then Crossroads Chevrolet between Mauldin and Simpsonville.

What I went to get!

What I went to get!

I knew exactly what I wanted and it was sitting in the showroom when we walked in. It was a 1990 Chevrolet Camaro IROC Z-28, smoke grey with factory tinted windows, t-tops, and high pro v-8 engine. Sticker price was $22,999.00, which was a ton of money in 1989.

I pointed to the car when the salesman walked up and told him that’s what I intended to buy. He opened the driver side door, got me seated, went around and got in the passenger’s seat, handed me the keys, and I was off on my first test drive ever. Five miles of curvy roads and one carsick and extremely pale salesman later, we were back on the lot and then in his little cubicle. I filled out a mile of paperwork and signed my name to hundreds of forms. Mama didn’t have to sign anything. I was so proud. He said it would be about two hours before he could give us “a decision.” So we went to eat lunch.

Right here, I need to explain something to y’all I’m not really proud of, but it is a fact of my existence. I suck at all things financial. Growing up, I never learned to save because we never had enough money around to have anything left over to save. I didn’t get an allowance, if I was with Mama, she bought what I needed or wanted if she had the money and if she didn’t, I did without. It’s where I picked up a phrase I use to this day to answer someone saying, “I want X or Y.” My answer is “People in Hell want ice water too.” If I was with Daddy, it was the same way. So I just never learned how to handle money well. I knew people got paid on Thursday and it was their job to spend it all because I figured if anything was left the next Wednesday, they’d come back and get it. I’m serious about this. To this day, if I’m not constantly vigilant, I can go through a pile of money of any size like poop through a goose and have a ball doing it. I lived with Mama and Mama’s budget was the same as what I use today. It’s called the Pile Method. You get paid, put the money in the bank, and sit down with a checkbook and a pile of bills and write out payments until the money or the pile is gone. Some weeks the money won, most weeks the pile won. To this day, I do that with only a little variation. So again, I suck at all things financial.

After lunch, we went back to the showroom where the very somber faced salesman sadly gave me the news that GMAC Financial had refused my loan application on the Camaro. I was heartbroken and he almost got to see a big boy bawl. I wanted that car so bad I could taste it. He saved the day, however, by telling me he HAD gotten me approved for another vehicle. He took the lead and showed me, at the very back of the lot, the vehicle I would drive off the lot with that day. It was a 1989 Chevy S-10 Cameo EL pickup truck — base model, sticker price $7999. Now when I say “base model” I don’t mean “no power windows” or something like that; I mean it didn’t have a RADIO — just a hole in the dash covered by a blockoff plate. No power steering, no power brakes, no NOTHING. It was a 4 cylinder 5 speed manual drivetrain and it DID have A/C, but only because GM wouldn’t ship a car below the Mason-Dixon Line without A/C and expect to sell it.

And what I got.

And what I got.

I paid $200 down and signed my name to a loan agreement of $184 per month. The salesman handed me the keys, I kissed Mama on the cheek, and took off in my new ride to show Daddy what a big boy I was. Daddy had just gotten home from eight hours at Laurens Glass Plant. He was sitting in the shade of his workshop shed and stood up when I pulled into the yard. Looking back now, it’s hard to believe I was 18, which made Daddy 38 years old. I walked up the hill and asked him how he liked “my new truck!” He looked at it thoughtfully for a long moment, then turned and the conversation progressed like this:

Daddy asked me, “How much was it?” I told him, “$7999.00.” He nodded.

Then he asked, “What’d you put down on it?” I told him, “$200.00.” He nodded again.

Then he wanted to know if Mama had co-signed with me and I proudly told him she had not; I was grown and making my own way in the world. I thought I was doing well and was smiling like a bloodhound pooping peach pits. Then Daddy asked his next question.

“What’s your payment?”  “$184 per month, sir!” That brought a wince, but the next few questions almost got me killed.

“How many months?” “Um, I don’t know?” Frown.

“What’s your interest rate?” Again, I had to say “Um, I don’t know?” That wasn’t the right answer.

“So, you just bought a truck? No idea how many payments? Don’t know the interest rate? Do you have the paperwork you signed?” I just nodded. “Go get it.” I went and got it and when I brought it back to Daddy, he sat down in the door of his workshop and read over everything, which was the first time anyone but the salesman read those papers. Apparently, he found the payment schedule AND the interest rate because he looked up at me.

He didn’t look angry, he didn’t even look upset. The best way I can describe his face was the way Jackie Gleason’s face looked during this scene in Smokey and the Bandit. He said, “You are paying $184.00 for SIXTY months. That’s FIVE years, son.” I didn’t know what to say. He continued, “You are paying 16% interest! You are basically buying that truck on a credit card!” Once again, I didn’t have any idea what to say. He finished up, “You just saw a truck you wanted and the man got you in it however he could. I wish you had come to me, son, and we could have gone together.” You may notice a pattern here, but I still didn’t know what to say. Finally, Daddy just smiled the same exasperated smile Budge says I use with her sometimes and said, “C’mon. Take me for a ride in your new truck.”

Twenty-five years later, I know the interest rate of every loan, credit card, and savings account I have and it’s all because of one conversation. I also know why Daddy was so aggravated about the interest rate. See, he bought his and Teresa’s house they live in now during the height of the Jimmy Carter administration. Daddy paid 17% interest on that house and it made him hate interest in all its forms; think about that the next time you hear a commercial for refinancing at 4%!

That’s my Daddy.

Happy Fathers Day to all the daddies out there and y’all be sure to keep your feet clean!

Love y’all.