Don’t Ever Date A Colored Girl
“Don’t ever date a colored girl. They’s all got the clap. They get it from they mamas.” My grandmother’s sage advice to me at five years old.
In spite of all the glamour shots of Spanish moss, and cypress trees, Louisiana is about as shit out of luck as one can get when it comes to being from somewhere. It’s hot, muggy, racist, and nobody’s family tree has a fork in it. Mine was no exception. My grandparents were first cousins, and I guess that’s why we all look alike, have every health condition known to America and some third world countries, Louisiana being among that group in spite of it being positioned at the asshole of the Mississippi River.
Long about the time I was three years old God decided it was time to kill me so I contradicted polio and something called the “sleeping sickness.” I lived, no thanks to the medical care of the day, and the following year they gave me a polio vaccination. You can’t make this stuff up folks. So at five I was deaf in one ear, which still rings till this day, blind in one eye and walking like a duck, but by golly I was white and that counted for something I guess.
Being white in a Klan based state had its perks, the main one being there was a whole race somewhere just a below white trash, which is what I was. What that amounted to was we could vote without getting lynched. Now we couldn’t marry a girl with all her teeth because that meant she’d been to a dentist and obviously was a blue blood, not capable of sexual satisfaction ‘cept niggers raped her. Then, of course then there’s the hanging, and Scarlet grows a new hymen just perfect for her fiancé Buddha Montgomery, heir to the gas station and thirty second degree Mason to boot.
All of this meant nothing to a kid growing up in a shotgun shack, living on liver gravy and bread with a flea bitten dog and a yard full of chickens, even in town. The difference between our “neighborhood” and “Nigger town” was the distance between the shacks. Theirs were closer. My most vivid memory was my uncle and dad “gigging” frogs and butchering them in the kitchen sink. All they’d eat were the legs, but they had to cut their heads off anyway, I suppose for the entertainment factor, and I’d watch them eat the frog legs while the heads blinked at them from the counter. They’d actually position the heads so they could see that. And poor old Martin Luther King tried singling “We Shall Overcome” to these guys. He’s lucky he wasn’t blinking from a sink.
I really did end up in a hospital when I had polio, but for minor ailments like nails in the foot, cut throats or pneumonia, you’d get taken to some camp in the swamp where a voodoo woman would blow smoke up your ass (literally) or put a penny on the wound so the spirit of Mr. Lincoln could draw out the poison, I crappith thee not!
I went to an all white school, but let me clarify. There’s white, then there’s white. The whitest kids had clean clothes and smelled good. I had neither. I usually wore a flannel shirt, and blue jeans with iron on patches. Iron on patches were the rage of the age. We was proud of iron on patches. I’d sit by the ironing board and watch in snake amazement as the patch cleaved to the fabric as if by magic. I really didn’t understand the social structure in school, only the fact that certain kids could hit me anytime they wanted to. There was this spoiled brat, Vance, I still remember him, who’d seek me out and beat me up during every recess. One day, in a moment of clarity, I hit him back and he fell, crying, so I hit him again. The teachers had to pull me off, but I think that was possibly the most memorable day of my life, that is until Velma Prigmore took off her blouse under the football stand years later, but I’ll save that for later.
We were surrounded by family but none of us liked each other. I remember that every time there was a get together it ended up in a drunken fight with the kids all screaming, followed by that wild ride back to Shreveport across the Red River bridge with the car bouncing off the rails. The only good thing was at that age when you life flashes before your eyes it doesn’t take long. I know because every time I got my ass beat my life flashed before my eyes. Usually involving blinking frog’s heads.
My life flashed before my eyes when my grandmother got a hold of me once. I think I was five. We had this fat little dog named Maybelline. One day I had to pee, and couldn’t make it so I peed on the wall in the hall. My grandmother came along, saw the pee, then me, then the dog, picked up a stick and beat puppy shit out of Maybelleline. Wow! Remember, this was the days before internet. Next day, pee a little higher, bigger thrashing for Maybelline. Finally, I decided to kill the dog. I peed about two feet ABOVE my head. Now Maybelline was about the size of a fat possum. I have to give my grandmother credit. She did everything she could to match that dog’s ass with that pee before my life flashed before MY eyes!
Louisiana people will eat just about anything, steak, road kill, all manner of guts, small negroes, you name it. After the frogs I realized my dad was crazy and I generally stuck to liver gravy at home. Wonder Bread was safe. Rice. Beyond that was pot luck. Crawfish. Oh my LIVING God! Etched into my still developing mind was the image of huddles of inbreds sucking crawfish asses. Now, I’m not saying that’s wrong, some of you might suck crawfish asses, just not me. And Boudin sausage. I think there might be an FDA warning on that now. For those of you who do t know what that tastes like, take a dirty sock, piss on it, wring it out and stuff it in your mouth. There you go. Don’t forget to wash it down with some of dat good ol’ Jax beer.
And Jesus? God DAMN did they have Jesus. My grandmother on my mother’s side, you know, the one who married her cousin, well, when we was living on Laurel Street, she would drag me down the the Baptist church and sit me right up there in the amen pew while this crazy old man screamed that me, and practically everyone else there was going to “hayell” and there wasn’t a damn thing we could do about it except put something in that plate he had passed around. Jesus scared the piss out of me until I was twenty-eight years old! I was just glad I wasn’t Catholic, and double glad I wasn’t black, or God forbid a black Catholic. Hell, if I turned out to be one of those I’d have just jumped into the Red River and been done with it.
I was told, when we lived Kaywood Apartments in Bossier City, to never go near the river. Now this is how much common sense we had at that age, and survival skills. With God, mosquitoes, teachers, the Klan and your parents all trying to kill you, you knew damn well not to go surfing on the Red River. This factor wore off by the time you got to high school because they were forever fishing teens out from under logs where the gators had stuffed them for seasoning. Oh yeah, we had those too. See the contrast; kids these days don’t know any better than to eat a dishwasher tablet and we used to play among the gators. We knew better than to eat a dishwasher tablet, one, because there weren’t any, and two, if there had been we’d have ended up down on the bayou with some old black lady blowing smoke up our ass. That’s called preventive medicine.
Not all things were bad. School lunches were a bitch. Till this day I have a prejudice. You see, all the school cooks were big, fat black women, and the result was whatever they come up with. Liver and onions, fried chicken, chicken and rice and courtesy of Huey Long you could eat all you wanted. They all had them Aunt Jemima wraps on their heads, a big smile, and even bigger spoons. They would throw mashed potatoes on the plate and it would drip over the side. Even today I have a hard time eating white woman cooking to the point of giving it to the dog when she looks away. Then you’d come home on the Good Ship Reality and find your uncle and dad in the kitchen with a case of Jax beer and a croak sack full of unfortunate frogs.
Louisiana weather sucks like a French whore, and I know something about French whores because Louisiana is full of them. You can’t see the tornadoes for the trees. I still remember the alert coming on the TV, the one you had to slap on the top to get reception from the station five miles away, and a very serious voice saying, “This is a severe tornado alert!” As opposed to the more mundane kind I suppose. Now, you didn’t know where it was, couldn’t see it, I’m told you could hear it, but that’s hard from under the bed. If you lived you’d stay up all night anyway just in case it had babies on the way through. Then the next day, in school, you have a bomb drill because everyone just knew the Russians were gonna bomb Barksdale Air Force Base at any given moment. All of this and the grown ups were worried about the blacks drinking out of the wrong water fountain. But . . . they all had Jesus!
Long about ’56 or ’57 or so my dad took a job in Lake Charles. I think I was still an only child, in fact I, sure of it because I was alone in the back yard. My sister was born later back in Kaywood Apartments. I don’t really remember when my brother came along. On Milton Street I just looked up one day and he was there. Anyway, I remember everyone spoke French. It was muggy, and there was this guy called Uncle Adam who had a new car. There wasn’t any air conditioning and that made the ride to school hell. Hurricane Audrey had come roaring through, and dad was a roofer. Seeing as most of the roofs were now out in the Gulf of Mexico there seemed to be a pot of money to be made so we moved down there. The one thing I remember was driving along the coast where the hurricane came in. You could smell the dead people, and some of them, or parts thereof were stuck on barbed wire fences with crabs crawling on them. Took me forty years to eat crab after that and still only eat Alaskan crabs. I figure they have more moral fiber than Louisiana crabs.
Miles and Miles of Texas
By the time we moved to Texas I was ten years old, and pretty much bat-shit crazy. Had a permanent ringing in my ears, constantly looking over my shoulder for bombs, blacks, and bloody crosses, and the scary part is I left an entire state behind that thought just like me, and they’re still THERE! Well, the ones the gators didn’t get. Texas was a whole new deal, and I had to work it, which has only taken me fifty-five years, six wives, ten houses and three fortunes.
The Last Picture Show
There was a movie back in the seventies, I think, The Last Picture Show. It was in black and white. A lot of people thought that was for effect, but the truth of the matter is that format exemplified the Texas that I grew up in. Our lives were black and white, both politically and physically. Color movies were rare, and rainbow life was even harder to find.
We had the old pickups, piss warm beer, skinny, smelly girls, and, of course there was one hottie. Ours was Sharon. Sharon even looked like the blonde in the movie, and she had breasts, a bonus for white chicks because uually only Mexican girls had a set of those. She even ended up on the cover of Playboy years later as part of a spread called, “The Girls of Texas.” I never did get to first base with her because I was scared of girls, but she had a horse! I’m not kidding. Right there in the middle of town in her back yard.
Anyway, I digress. I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got there as quick as I could which was the morning I woke up, at ten years old, in Texas, and the first thing I noticed was that it was flat. I was in central Texas. This place is like five states, and about the only thing they all agree on is they don’t like Yankees i.e. anyone outside of Texas! You can be a wetback and you’ll fare better than a New Yorker down here. It’s a little better now with the interstate and all, but there’s still some lingering resentment to people who talk too fast and and wear sneakers. All but Austin, they wear sneakers there but we have to accept that because we can’t move the capitol.
So here I was, in September, looking out of a motel window at hotter than hell Texas! Texas is hotter than chicken grease. Now, bear in mind that most of the population had to go to a movie to sit in air conditioning. Water coolers were the norm. Your state of the art water cooler had a hose keeping the pan filled, with this toilette bobber turning it on and off, and this little pump thingy pushing the water up, sprinkling the hay filters on the four sides, yeah, you heard me right, hay, and at least in theory that would cool a house. Well, that was a crock of shit, and it smelled like shit. Horse shit! Well, nobody had one of those! What they had was no hose, no pump, second hand, rusting gadget with several tow-headed kids running out with a pan pouring water over moldy hay when granny started wheezing.
It would cool you if you sat right in front of it. Consequently everyone drank beer. Dad drank beer, Mom drank beer, the kids snuck beer, the dog drank beer, EVERYONE drank beer. You could drink beer all day, with sweet tea, tons of water, and never piss. I missed Shreveport.
I had to get into school. Killeen had so few schools we went a half a day. It was totally integrated because there were no schools so I saw my first black kid in school. Didn’t affect me. No, I mean it. Made me no difference at all. It was so damn hot nobody cared. We were all just trying to live. There was another tribe there, too. Mexicans. There were aspects to that phenomenon I appreciated.
Back in Louisiana the physical education was recess, maybe a little baseball IF you were up to it, and it wasn’t very challenging because we were all white. But TEXAS! You ran until you puked, played baseball with Willie Mays third cousin and then took a shower with some kid named Santos, who SHAVED! By the way, this was the same Santos who slept with your wife years later when you were in the county jail. You’d be in there, and some guy would say, “Hey man! Santos is crawling up on your wife right now!” Well! I went to school with Santos.
In short order I was in Junior High. I was dumber than a box of rocks. I was eating a little better than back in the states , but the heat cancelled that out. Had to walk to school. There were guidelines. If you, say, lived in the next county you’d get a bus, any closer than that, and you were on your own.
In Shreveport if you misbehaved you’d get a stern talking to with a note home. Of course, I was always stupid enough to take the note to my mom, and she’d chew on me, quoting the note, emphasizing the wording as she went, but TEXAS! They got around all that crap, just dragged you out in the hall and beat your ass. Every morning sounded like rifle shots from a firing squad. I must admit it was entertaining when you got a “crier,” and if you got a begger, oh my GOD! We’d hang out the door to see that, and if it was Santos, well, my heart would actually skip a beat.
Now, education. Let me gauge the quality. I didn’t learn a God Damn thing in all my years of Texas public schooling except typing, lunch, and how to avoid getting my ass beat. They were actually stupid enough to put a clock in every room so we all learned “clock” real good! Long about the ninth grade I discovered girls. Oh, they were always there it’s just that they all had to wear dresses below their knees and looked like Olive Oyle. I fell in love with a girl named Grace Barnes. She looked like Olive Oyle, too, but she had a cute face. It wasn’t a torrid romance. She gave me her cake at lunch once, but then I came upon these new creatures we didn’t have in Louisiana. MEXICAN GIRLS! When you consider the separation of the races in Louisiana you must understand that Hispanics were not the issue. Everything was black and white. That, and I never saw a Mexican before I came to Texas, except on the John Wayne version of the “Alamo.” But, Texas was completely different. And Mexican GIRLS? Viva Zapata!
For the record, Mexican girls are born fully grown. Just thought you needed to know that. They had to wear the same dresses as the other girls but I’d trade one Mexican calf, even half a calf, for a butt naked Anglo girl any day, all except Sharon, of course, but they all have a brother named Santos.
I didn’t excel in high school except one time. We had this fountain in the commons. Kids threw coins in it. Ok, do the math; fountain full of change, poor white trash, yeah, you get the drift. Anyway, me, Joe Leeth and some other numbnut came up with a plan. I mean there was a lot of money in there, just sitting. So, Joe was gonna hold my belt and I’d brace my feet against the edge of the fountain. The plan was to ease me down and once I was close enough I’d just reach in and scoop up the loot.
We should have paid more attention in physics class and we would’ve understood the laws of Leverage better. At about forty five degrees my weight increased exponentially, combined with the chickenshit that was holding my belt, and in I went.
I made a perfect human shape in the green slime on the bottom of the fountain. Didn’t get a dime. Came up, and as the water drained out of my ears the laughter rolled in. Well, we all got taken to the office. Of course you know they had to beat all our asses, my wet ass being first. Then they marched us out to the football locker room, because that’s where the clothes dryer was, and they beat our asses, then back to class. Life was so much simpler back then. I’m just glad I didn’t have hemorrhoids.
I began writing in high school. Don’t know what drove me to it, I hated school, and everything that had anything to do with it, but for some reason I could string a story. Beginning in the tenth grade I’d buy a two hundred page spiral notebook and jump right in. When the notebook was full, the book was finished. The first was a collection of short stories. I got my ideas from dreams. Now in old time Texas you dreamed a lot because we had those old timey gas space heaters. They were free standing with no outlet to the outside, just this hot box at the center of the main room. I guess that constituted central heat. Anyway it beat freezing, however, it did put out a fair amount of carbon monoxide, but them old timers weren’t worried about that shit. You got thirteen kids what’s one, more or less. So, during the school year in your sleep, hovering between heaven and hell, you’d dream, and I wrote it all down.
My first book was a hit. Now this was the sixties and my stories were right up there with the Beatles. Next year I wrote a gangster story, but my best seller was in my senior year. I came up with a plot about this pissed off little nerd (it was autobiographical) who planned to bomb the school cafeteria. God, it was good. It went hour by hour as the bomb ticked away, kids milling around, teachers watching, then BOOM! First responders, last kisses, and lots of drama.
I passed it to my school mates, and all went well until someone gave it to Miss Hornbuckle, who never had a date in her fifty-six years, and she gave it to the principle, Mr. Patterson! From there I went to the office. Patterson had read it, and, of course, first things first, he beat my ass, but then he called the cops. There was an issue with my book. Uh, the bomb was functional. You see, I’d spent the first ten years of my life in Shreveport, Louisiana, with oil drills, dynamite, blasting caps, stuff like that, and it wasn’t very hard to run two wires from the bell and striker of an old alarm clock, throw in a lantern battery, run the two wires down to a blasting cap that was tucked inside six sticks of dynamite, alarm goes off, striker hits the bell, sends sparks to the blasting cap, lunch is over. It was a good bomb, too. Blew my ass up!
Well, there I was rubbing my ass in Mr. Patterson’s office when the cars rolled up, the boys got out, and the room filled up with laws. Now, to be a cop in 1960s Texas you had to own a gun, and and your training was not pull it on folks like Bonnie and Clyde. But, a kid with a Big Chief notebook and a bruised butt? Shut the front door. You gotta remember, Killeen was a boring town. In the sixties we couldn’t even muster a race riot. I must admit that Mr. Patterson was a tad bit smarter than the cops. They didn’t have a clue so he clued them in. Old bastard! Well, to make a long story short, got my ass busted, missed lunch, and they kept my book as “evidence.” Oh, and Miss Hornbuckle told me I’d never be able to communicate in the English language. What did she know about English? She taught school in Texas!