On Valentine’s

NOTE TO READERS: Here it is again: the famous Valentine Vic wrote and sent through the Darton College campus to the female faculty and staff, an act then-VP Joseph Kirkland termed “sexual harassment.” Vic’s lawyer condescendingly defined the term so Kirkland and President Peter Sireno had to contend themselves with a letter of reprimand for Vic’s records and the later dismissal of his division chair for not siding with key staff against faculty no matter how illegal or ludicrous the charges. So here it is again and so it shall be sent every Feb. 14 until his death and (according to the provisions of his will) in perpetuity by his heirs and descendents with this preface: ” A condition of my spiritual redemption mandates perpetual and public forgiveness to trespassors against me, in this case Peter Sireno and Jospeh Kirkland, who accused me falsely of “sexual harassment.” If you are easily harassed sexually, don’t read it.”

On Valentine’s the birds do choose their mates.

The hawks in flight and sparrows on the ground

Stop hunting prey and hopping all around.

They couple up, and then they copulate

 In feathered frenzy squawking all along.

And then some roost in trees, some merely sit

Upon the heads of statues where they shit.

Some sort of whistle, or they sing a song.

One thing is true of every kind of fowl:

Those of feather do together flock.

The buzzard never makes it with the cock.

The raven never climbs upon an owl.

 The heron does not stoop to hump the quail,

And lovebirds only nestle in a pair

with other lovebirds. The world never dare

to mount a peacock’s multi-colored tail.

 

You never see a bluebird mount a jay,

and chickadees don’t dittle mockingbirds,

but I could waste a hundred thousand words

and still not tell you what I have to say

 about the birds and all that they don’t do.

They do enough of interest, to be sure,

although they keep their pedigrees quite pure.

To illustrate, I will describe a few:

 

Male ostriches jump on their partner’s back.

Her head is stuck securely in the sand,

and eagles daily high above the land.

The duck has his orgasm with a quack!

 

The penguins pass the long mid-winter’s night

with lots and lots of sub-Antarctic vice.

They hunker down and do it on the ice

because they were denied the gift of flight

 and can’t fly off to Florida to mate.

Despite the cold the females are not frigid,

and little feathered penises get rigid

when February 14 is the date.

 

The vulture mixes dalliance with death.

His boudoir is the rib cage of a horse.

When buzzards have imbibed the final course,

they huddle up and coo with rancid breath.

And then there is the cuckoo, we are told,

that lays its eggs into another’s nest,

and foster parenthood is then impressed.

The bird that’s wronged is labeled the cuckold.

 

Some feathered fornicators mate in flight.

At least they come together in the air.

Then they become a quickly falling pair

with ruffled feathers, squawking with delight.

 They roll their soaring passion in a ball

but wisely keep an eye upon the ground

as they, inflamed in lust, come hurling down

while yodeling in joy their mating call.

 A carefree couple high above the stone

— two eagles, say, or falcons, even hawks —

may quite forget themselves in their sweet squawks

and break their feathered asses and their bones.

 

For birds that do their mating in the skies,

it’s best to prematurely ‘jaculate,

for they will both be wasted if they wait.

Coitus interruptus is advised.

The robin in his russet feathered breast

will strut his stuff upon the frosty ground,

while horny maiden robins gather round

deciding which cock robin they like best

And after that decision has been made

they gang-bang him round-robin near to death

until he’s long of tongue and short of breathand cured of any notion to get laid.

 

The female hummingbird receives a thrill

so quick it is a singular sensation

that’s put to her as one high-speed vibration.

She might as well sit on a dentist drill

 as let that high-tech hummer have his way —

he hits and runs and ravishes so fast

she feels a subtle tingle in her ass,

and that is all. I’m sure she could say

 for sure if she’d been diddled by a beau

or felt alone an airy premonition.

He never bothers with a proposition,

but if he’s good, she’ll ask “Which way’d he go?”

 

Well, people, too, when they are so inclined,

will come in season when the sap is down

in February, and they’ll choose their mates

and call them Valentines,

 whom the will hop upon with birdlike glee

and warble, whistle, whip-poor-will, or screech

when one is tow and half of all is each.

They may climb up and do it in a tree

or in a hammock swinging from its limbs,

in airplane restrooms high above the earth.

In caves they’ll fornicate for all they’re worth

or in the church’s vestry during hymns.

 

The human couples, like the owl or loon,

in cloistered darkness or in broad daylight

will come together morning, noon, and night

upon the water or beneath the moon.

 They’ll stretch their loves spread-eagle on the grass

or couple in the backseat of a car.

It doesn’t really matter where they are.

The body’s mobile when the mind’s on ass.

 

But now this Valentine is getting long.

And high time that I practiced what I preach

and hoping that my grasp exceeds my reach,

I’ll tell you why I up and wrote this song:

 I have admired your beauty from a-far

and now would like to have a closer look,

at all your crannies, valleys, hills, and nooks –

the stuff that makes you beauty that you are,

 

So if you’ll sacrifice a little time,

we’ll put our knees together for a chat,

and we’ll exchange our kisses tit for tat,

and you can then become my valentine.

 

Oh, I’ll provide the tats. You bring the other,

and we can dally well into the night

until the morning planet sends her light

to charm you wits. Then you will be my lover.

We’ll join up with the eagle and the dove,

of Mars and Venus, mom and dad of Cupid,

who (everybody knows that isn’t stupid)

can shoot a hypodermic dart of love

 

That will unite us solely; that’s a fact.

He can inflame man, woman, beast or birds.

Then you and I will make, in Shakespeare’s words,

the legendary “beast that has two backs.”

 

 

Ode to General Jane, Patron of the Arts

by
O. Vic Miller

My muse and me, we sing of little Gen’rl Jane,
Who asked politely that a symphony be sane
Or fair. Or failing that, at least to keep their promises.
Instead of crawfishing retroactively from what they said.
That’s Willson with two L’s, whom we applaud.
Oh happy hour when our heroine withdrawed
her patronage (also her money)
from those who’d squander it to silly sanctimony.

For my own part, I speak with some authority–
Not as the vanguard of the finer arts–
But rather holding up the hinder parts
of her. And I’ve been born again,
and more than once. I’m therefore free of sin,
Thus my muse and I have rose back up
from infamy to judge the dead and quick–
We’re clearly qualified to say who plays our music–
And furthermore, my fortune, age, and waxing impotence
Endow me with a higher moral sense
Than thou all’s. I’m also blessed with a healthy dose of Christian poverty,
Which is to say, I ain’t a commie yet, though lacking fiscal sovereignty.
And I’ve been judged by meatheads for my rhymes,
Condemned to reprobation for sending Valentines
To academes and moralists whose finest hour
is chunking stones from crystal palaces and ivory tower.

Alas, my tux has got too tight for me to don it;
One foot’s too swole with gout to lace a black shoe on it;
My shotgun’s made me deaf as Ludwig Von,
So for symphony I stay home and turn the TV on
and watch the Fox up yonder lashing his baton,
and I’m uplifted some, so here is where I think I’m coming from:
The libido that oozes from the id
can boil up too much pressure if we seal the lid
And make no sweat to sublimate it–
The faintest spark is all it takes to detonate it.
Therefore I’d have our precious arts distilled from better sludge
Than ferments in the brainpans of the dolts who’d judge
an artist, not his work.

There’s no excuse
for all this reprobation and abuse.
Our patronage, such as it is, should be a friend
of artists too– enable and defend ‘em.
Cut them some slack, enable them to do
the work their higher powers call them to.
I say they love not art
Who fail to take the artists’ part,
In making sure he’s happy, free, and fed.
Then you may hear a music that you touched your finger to,
Instead of minor poets flipping one at you.

I’d like to know who thinks the Pope don’t have his toddy.
Or that a human soul don’t have a body.
Who thinks an artist also is a prude
Or says a painter’s model can’t be nude?
Who’d emphasize peccadilloes Toscanini had
Even if his energy be inspired from being bad?
Art comes from fallen saints and resurrected imps,
while prudish judgment rises rigid from a libido that’s limp.
Love’s kin to lust, as beauty’s kin to truth, or maids to whores,
Eros, agape, hypocrites to liars, who say the things that make untrue
the things they said before.

I say a piper’s got to have a lot of fun,
By God, enough to play and dance for everyone.
The sweetest honey’s made from sourest wood,
So if you’d bray that geniuses be good,
Make sure your doltish virtue’s ample
To act it out for those who might improve by your example.
I never saw a saint could write a sonnet
(Though clerics seek a masterpiece to paint some fig leaves on it)

Minstrels are beloved for their songs,
So “If music be the food of love, play on.”
That’s what the Bard, my muse, and me would like to say.
It ain’t nobody’s business who don’t play
a piccolo or xylophone or flute.
So if you got a horn, go toot it
And let the artless Philistines harass,
Who best deserve the jawbone of an ass
upside a head whose brains will never fetch
forth a ditty, doodle, limerick or sketch,
but quick to launch their asses off their haunches
to censure music men before their tunes.
Our arts community should wiggle free of such buffoonery.

I know the libido that oozes from the id
Will build up too much pressure if I seal the lid.
I gotta act temptations out or sublimate ’em.
Or the dimmest spark will ember up to detonate’em.
It’s clear no muse nor deity can budge
Until some saint or sinner stirs the sludge
To dredge up imps and angels from the bottom.
So flaunt your morals elsewhere if you got ‘em.
And let the music blast and patrons dance,
affected critics manage their own pants,
suppressing the appendages inside
their zippers and master their own demons ere they chide.

Humanities will prosper only when
Her acolytes are human, not exempt of sin.
Therefore I say an artist’s got to have some fun
So he can play and dance for everyone.
And everybody knows whose head is on the level,
Best music comes from dancing with the devil.
The sculptress has to fondle human clay
Before she renders marble into flesh
Of Virgin, pieta or odalisque.
Fra Lippo Lippi must’ve known of Aphrodite’s heat
To paint the blush that glows upon his shameless little Virgin’s cheek
In luminescence from the holy fire inside her womb.
Just think of all the bacchanals– the orgies on sarcophagi and tombs
depicted in Italian churches by Michelangelo an ‘em
With gods and satyrs, pans and cherubim
In pagan pageantries of writhing sin.
Hey Ho! hooray, well done, you rascal, and Amen.

Let censors bitch, and balder dashers quibble.
Let painters paint and flutist toot and poets scribble.
The maestro waves his magic wand
And pipers play. I say we ought to pay them for their songs,
And let impious censors sing along.

Who’d raise a moral stink, well, let ‘em do it
From a pew while choirs sing to Jesus, who
Cherished more the content of our hearts than what we mortals do.
And if the scripture’s true, we should derive from it
That Jesus spent more love on whores than hypocrites.

Who’d have the arts subdued by ceremony’s pomp
And circumstance? When happy lovers dance and stomp
In joy to tunes divine and yodel songs,
While all you prudish judges stay at home
Lest undigested piety turn flatulent and make you sick.
I say, rear back, kick up, cool out, enjoy the music!

While covens, corporations, Klans or boards
Hide cowardice collectively. But , oh my Lord,
Our Joy– that source of light immortal–
Transcends the desultory suspiration of the soul
into the meaty fingers weaving leaden straw into the golden
Tapestry of life and the resounding yes of new creation–
The hope beneath the no of spiritual stagnation.

He best loves God who sings life’s praise,
Through all his naughty nights, and brilliant days
Against the braying out of tune medieval laws
That emphasize the weakness of the flesh and human flaws.
The soul loves music flying wild and free
Unbound by tedious stocks of self-proclaiming piety.

Now my own muse ( I honestly confess this)
Is far more lewd than fair.
She rides in on a goat with rhinestones in her hair,
naked as a chicken, but she’d rather see me die
Than languish in a jaundiced public eye,
Brow beaten, viewed askance and harassed
By philistines better served by the jawbone of an ass
upside a head whose brains will never fetch
forth a ditty, doodle, limerick or sketch.
And if a painter’s better angels don’t take over,
Well, his model’s nude and prone beneath the cover.
The masterpiece can wait—I say, lets close the arras tight and turn her over.

Art’s made of soul stirred out of tempted meat.
Without temptation composers can’t create.
So if a rascal slips, we help him up, and bring him home to wash his feet
Of clay, then kill a fatted calf for him to eat,
So he, encouraged, brings to fruit the things self-righteous prudes can’t do.

So, General Jane, this doggerel’s for you,
I know you’d rather that I hadn’t wrote it.
We know self-rightous patrons of the town won’t quote it,
Still the pearl in all this oyster’s simply this:
You gotta have a little hubris
To know your faults and make a better music.
We gotta climb Fools’ Hill and fall back down a time or two
To pipe a universal yes to life and love –creation ever new.
Let’s leave it to the Pope to winnow right from wrong,
For life’s very short and Art is long.
So let the trumpets bray to beat the band with drum and xylophone,
And damn judgmental judges till the Judgment comes
to usher them below to darker shades,
where all the best and hottest music’s made.
And so–Hey ho!– My muse is telling me it’s time to go.
She bids farewell, so with her flourish I shall hit the road.
Goodbye, dear readers. Bless y’all. Adios!
And may you find our mundane musings apropos.
(end)

Vic’s Article in Vintage Magazine

Manifestation of Male Hysterphilia in American Football

Now American football, the most purely masculine of team sports, strikes a responsive chord in the male psyche and has been described by psychoanalysts as an oedipal drama in which the sacred mother earth (end zone) is defended from the aggressive father (the offense). Players’ uniforms exaggerate male characteristics: oversized head, broad shoulders, narrow waists, and supportive codpiece. The line formation, the scrum, is comprised of linemen assuming a three point stance— classic anal posturing that signals submission among lower primates. This position displays trusting vulnerability to one’s own teammates while exhibiting snarling antagonism towards opponents, who are knocked down prone or supine while other players pile on in an orgy of violence suggestive of gang rape and pillage. The offense undertakes a ritual depicting the male role in procreativity, involving “deep penetration” to “drive” the football—a seminal symbol—into an “end zone” to “score,” while cheerleaders and fans in the bleachers hoot and chant their approval.
Freudians also point out that the players engage in intimate gestures such as fanny patting, embracing, and holding hands in the huddle, which would be regarded as suspect male behavior anywhere else but the gridiron. They make a big deal out of basketball and hockey too, in which balls or pucks are slam dunked or driven into recessed netted enclosures.
But as any fool can clearly see, football isn’t sexual drama. It’s a ritual expression of reproduction or womb envy made obvious by the manner in which the downed ball is brought back into play. The egg shaped football is delivered from the center’s crotch to the quarterback, whose upper hand is pressed into the perineum, where the womb opening would be if a center had one. Indeed the position of the quarterback’s hands is the same as the obstetrician’s during delivery, dominant palm down. Of course, the center’s stance is not the usual position female homo sapiens assume when giving birth, although it’s not unheard of in anthropological circles, but it approximates the birth position of all other animals, and it is the position a male would have to assume in order to deliver offspring to a sympathetic male midwife. A plan made in the huddle that is not successfully executed is said to be aborted. The center tucks a towel in his belt like a loincloth to obscure the secrets of birth. Football is clearly an expression of empty womb envy. Hysterphilia! Hut two!
The cathartic elements of football could be enhanced if the cheerleaders and the fans had bullroarers, although whirling them in bleachers could cause injuries and put out some eyes, but why shouldn’t fans risk injury in applause when players are crippled for life. Of course, females have traditionally been forbidden the use of bullroarers, but if I can convince Whamo Industries to manufacture some, I’ll bet the girls will insist upon owning them too, acceptable in a society where male and female roles are hopelessly confused anyway.
Men talk about sports with the same enthusiasm women show for childbirth. They memorize statistics the same way wives remember post partum details and substitute sports for baby showers because their bowels bear no fruit. Even male nurses can’t get the real jargon of reproduction right.
“Boy, can she ever deliver,” I overheard from two male nurses at Phoebe Putney. “She’s a two for two on the birth/conception scale after a three hour labor and a C sect delivery of a five pound six and three quarter oz. femme that rated a 9 on the Apgar and had a head full of hair….”

Spared Rods and Spoiled Children

By O. Victor Miller

In memory of Dan Fowler

“O ye! Who teach the ingenious youth of nations, Holland, France, England, Germany or Spain.  I pray ye flog them upon all occasions, It mends their morals, never mind the pain” – Byron, Don Juan

 The other day young Michael Brooks, publisher of Albany Magazine asked me if it was true, as his father swore, that our generation walked barefoot to school through the snow. Loyal to the parental credibility of my contemporaries, I assured him that this was so, though truth compelled me to add there was snow on the ground in South Georgia only from September through April.

 If Michael’s generation doesn’t have trouble filling our shoes it’s because their feet are bigger. Kids are taller now. In my day nobody on the basketball team was over five-ten.  Our growth was stunted because there was no free lunch, and we burned a lot of calories walking to school-calories we couldn’t replenish without lunch money.  Also, parents and teachers conspired to keep us small so they could whip us with impunity.  Size was power, and if the youth of today aren’t sinewed with cables of steel, it’s because their mettle is untempered by the exquisite hardships we endured.  Even the notion of healthy growth was treated contemptuously in my day.  Adults derogatorily labeled recalcitrant children big babies, or, bigshots, or too big for their britches. Existence itself, being, was even shameful. “You think you’re something, don’t you?” they’d chide.

 Another distinction between my generation and Michael’s is the commitment of our teachers, who were tough as the seasons. We had corporal punishment in our segregated schools and teachers fully capable of dishing it out. They ordered us to grab our ankles and flailed us with strops, paddles, rulers, fan belts and radiator hoses.  Licks, the punishment was called, and the rare girl got spanked too. Girls grabbed their ankles with their derriere to the blackboard to prevent baring the dumpling hinges of knees.  The humiliation of public whipping didn’t umbrage Victorian modesty.  The other guys delight in the struck penitents’ wobble of breast, but I always averted my eyes.

 To make sure you didn’t release your ankles and straighten up before the–therwack-lick landed, the coaches randomly fired high, swinging over our backs.  Anyone bolting upright at the penultimate moment would be stropped across the ear with a fan belt or clubbed with a modified 2X4 in the back of the head. The paddles were marked with clever nomenclature: Board of Education or Golden Ruler.  We were too stupid for reverse psychology.  One new math teacher down from New Jersey announced that misbehavers would no longer be allowed to work word problems.  “Oh Jeez,” we pleaded, “anything but that!”

 Sugar Ray’s punitive policy had a sporting twist.  When you misbehaved, cut-up they called it, you came back after school and chose one of the four drawers in his filing cabinet. One had a large paddle, one a smaller one, one a razor strop, and one drawer was empty. I made a point of cutting up every fifth period until ordered to report after school. During sixth period W.C. Anderson would find out which drawer was empty and whisper the secret number.  I’d show up to try my luck, choose the empty drawer, and leave Mr. Council scratching his head over the mathematical odds of my choosing the empty drawer every afternoon for 15 consecutive schooldays.

 Miss Plant would have us read Macbeth, leaving the room when the Bard’s text contained the words inappropriate to her Victorian sensibilities.  Mr. McNabb, the principal, wouldn’t let her expurgate Shakespeare.  We’d read loud enough for her to hear us in the hall.

 It was a special and festive day when a girl got licks, though this generally occurred in the sequestered inter-sanctum of Miss Plant’s office, where not even football players were allowed. It was generally conceded that girls who acted like boys were treated accordingly, but it was feared that a misplaced lick could “ruin a girl for life,” shocking the uterus into permanent dysfunction.  This eventuality wasn’t viewed as particularly tragic as long as the good girls’ uteruses survived in tact, though everybody knew only bad girls engaged in the kind of deportment that led to reproduction.

 Robert “Buffalo Bob” Faudree, the second largest teacher at AHS, married the Spanish teacher and became a banker, kowabonga. Lots of teachers in those days were farmers too. And auto mechanics. They brought in a diverse variety of educational aids–jumper cables, hydraulic and radiator hoses, fan belts. The female teachers brought in bed slats, having them drilled and whittled in wood shop to offset with balance and leverage whatever they lacked in upper body strength.

 “I don’t know,” Edward answered, carelessly pointed his digitus impudicus under Frenchy’s nose.  “I seen the other boys doing it, so I copied them. I don’t know what this means.”  Edward’s decomposed body was found a decade or so later in a snow bank in Ohio with a gangland bullet in his head. I don’t know if Coach Lowe has any connections up there or not. Tommy Ross married beautiful Robin Leeger and became a lawyer like Buster Vansant, who says Pat “Mudcat” Field paddle him so vigorously for cutting up in Mrs. Saunders’ English class he had to go home and unstick his bloody underwear from his ass by soaking in the tub.  Buster’s mother was horrified, but his father smiled over his newspaper, understanding what an insufferable little shit Buster could be.

 Times were tougher in those days, and winters were colder. During hard freezes we left home early, staggering our paths to step in lukewarm cow flop to keep our toes from freezing. We followed closely behind the cows because the pies cooled as they dropped and froze soon after splattering the frozen pastures.  Teachers in those days provided heated antifungal footbaths at entrance thresholds to keep us from tracking cow shit into the classrooms.  It was a long walk between cow pies for those who crossed the frozen Flint. Eventually, teenage entrepreneur Bucky Geer drove his father’s cattle to school and let us for the price of our lunch money follow the herd.  Our mothers, as had mothers since the first one, warned us not to make ugly faces in winter for fear a north wind would freeze our mugs into a hideous rictus we would carry to our graves.They sighted football hero Frank Orgel, who never obeyed his mother, as a living example. Orgel became a prodigious broken field runner rushing late to school and zig-zagging through as many cow pies as he could along the way.  His face froze into an agonized snarl that didn’t soften until middle age.

 I told Michael he could thank or blame my generation for the softness of his and for its general progress.  If sons’ vision is longer than their fathers’, it’s because sons stand upon the shoulders of our stony hardship.  It was difficult to improve ourselves fighting hard times and dodging the draft, and we developed a grim determinism of poverty and global aggression-a perpetuity of world wide economic and military instability which can be expressed, in the words of Steve Hinton’s mother: “They’ll always be POah and WAwah.”

 Coach Bob “Big-un” Fowler was educations best deterrent to bad deportment.  He’s only 6’8” inches now, but he was a lot taller when I was in junior high and high school. We figured if he paddled you, you’d end up in a body cast or an iron lung. But the coaches weren’t the only teachers compulsive about keeping order. “Sugar” Ray Council, my high school algebra teacher, paddled me so severely one afternoon he numbed my coccyx and backlashed my ducktail. Temporarily paralyzed in a jack-knifed posture, I had to walk home dragging my knuckles across frozen cow pies, my mind full of splintered light.  For this, saints flagellated themselves?

 I got another whipping when I got home, for getting a whipping at school.

 W.C. later died in jail awaiting trial as the prime suspect for killing “Jane Doe,” a decomposed woman discovered to be his wife, but in those days W.C. had replaced Bucky as recipient of my lunch money.  One day W.C. cut class to shoot illegal wood ducks, and I found myself trying to stare through a gunmetal filing cabinet, procrastinating as long as I could before stooping to eenie-meenie mental telepathy. Sugar Ray smiled diabolically when I picked the drawer containing the large paddle with nickel-sized holes for he’d been sorely provoked. With that instrument, powered by hostility pent up from weeks of unavenged insubordination, he embossed nickel-sized blood blisters in base relief across my fundament, teaching me that the slight Mr. Council could give licks nearly as hard as we imagined Coach Fowler could.

 Miss Thelma Plant, the Albany High School dean of girls, carried a tape to measure skirt lengths she suspected be less than 6 inches below the knee.  Miss Plant was no taller than my belt buckle.  She didn’t even have to stoop to gauge hems. Pregnant girls were sent home, married girls were sent home. Funny haircuts were sent home with the heads they decorated. The worst thing they could do to us was send us home, where our parents didn’t want us around any more than teachers did.

 “’I have given SUCK’,” we’d yell, “’and know how tender ‘tis to love the babe that MILKS me. I would, while it was smiling in my face, have plucked my NIPPLE from its boneless gums and dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you have done to this’.”

 Miss Plant was hard on girls but loved football players, in whom she found grand measures of bucolic grace.  She’d beam lovingly as Mike “Toilet” Doyal or Eddie Ogletree duhed and stuttered through Elizabethan drama. “That was wonderful, Michael, spoken like a true Southern gentleman. Now please be kind enough to recite the dagger soliloquy.”

 “Do what?”

 Strangely Miss Plant loved me too.  My daddy, she insisted, had saved her life with an O-negative transfusion when she’d had some unmentionable organ removed. She’d pull me aside and smile upward, focusing her teary eyes on some phenomenon a thousand yards beyond the back of my tangled ducktail. “We have the same blood in our veins, you and I,” she said.

 “Do what?”

 I don’t recall Coach Fowler ever whipping a girl.  Actually, I don’t remember him giving anybody licks at all, but it was rumored that he used his bare, oar-sized hand instead of a paddle.

 There were other coaches like O’Brian and Tilliski, who’d pop our buttocks with lanyards as we ran laps around the track.  Mr. Hershell, the mechanical drawing teacher, had forearms like Popeye, and we were deathly afraid of one-armed “Lefty” Sanders, to whom Ben Swilley gave a single cufflink for Christmas.  We correctly assumed Lefty to be twice as strong as any two-fisted teacher except Coach Fowler.

 Graham “Frenchy” Lowe threatened to run Edward Lewis through the expansion wire window of the gym and dice him like a carrot. Edward had flipped a bird at Tommy Ross and Frenchy saw him through the corner of his eye. Coach Lowe snatched Edward up by his upturned collar as Edward ran in place. “What does that mean, big shot?” he demanded.

 Coach “Moon” Mullis, famous for tantrums, accidentally flung his watch along with a pile of substandard geometry papers, shattering it against the wall, then paddled Johann Bleicher for laughing.  Johann later became a San Francisco hippie, a drug head, then a high school principal in North Carolina.

 “Sweet William” Bragg was there, svelte and dramatic, waving his arms and quoting Falstaff. Nobody misbehaved in his class either, and if any teacher ever deserved a monument cast in bronze it was Billy Bragg, whose professional footsteps I tried to follow, later becoming his colleague and friend.

 We liked them all well enough, our teachers.  They were decent men and women with sadistic streaks we could understand, but Coach Fowler was the one who stood us in awe. He never rushed, he never screamed, it looked like he never breathed deeply enough to blow his whistle.  Our respect derived in part from our knowledge that he was big enough to kill us but didn’t.

 Coach Bob taught me in junior high and in high school, as did Graham Lowe.  To this day I don’t know if they changed jobs, got promoted, or moonlighted just to follow me around.  At Darton College I taught Bob’s youngsters Julie, Nancy, and Dan less for vengeance that for a sweet sense of continuity.  Dan couldn’t get to my 8 a.m. English class on time because he deer hunted every morning.  To make him punctual, I hunted with him until I started coming in late myself.  An emu or a wildebeest could walk under your deer stand at Fowler Farms, which served as a holding facility for wild animals Dan’s naturalist uncle had promised to zoos.  There was no telling what Uncle Jim turned loose in that swamp.  Sometimes I was too scared to climb down at 8 o’clock.

 I tried to follow Billy Bragg’s footsteps but found my path as staggered and beshitted as our way to school.  Billy was an institution, the kind of teacher I’ll never be. All my old teachers were better educators than I am, and a high school diploma in those days was equivalent to at least a master’s degree today.  I still remember the Shakespeare Miss Plant made me memorize, and what little algebra I know came from Mr. Council.  I’ve never paddled a student, although I’ve had to call the cops on a few, and more pupils than I can estimate have come through or around me without mastering basic literacy skills.

 Georgia’s public schools in Albany during the ‘50s weren’t perfect and our teachers weren’t either, but I don’t remember ever seeing a kid beyond the third grade who couldn’t read, write or figure. Our teachers meant well, and I hold no grudge for the licks. If they didn’t teach us right from wrong, they left no doubt in our minds what they thought was right and wrong, and our parents sided with them to present a united front. I look back on my education with one haunting regret. I’m ashamed that I wasn’t anywhere near the role model for Bob’s kids that their father was for me.

Graveyard Dead

By O.Victor Miller

The thunder of a magnum revolver reverberates through the cypress pond in sync with the rocking canoe.  John and Brent, marginal English students, stare into the fizzing swamp water where the eight-foot alligator disappeared. Their awed faces, illuminated by a spotlight held down in case a game warden should happen by, seem grotesquely innocent. Brent’s forefingers are twisted into his ears past the first joints. “I think you got him, Mr. Miller!” he shouts.

“Keep it down,” I tell my wards. “The gator is properly shot precisely through the medulla oblongata.” I holster the forty-four, reaching into the cooler for snorkel gear John iced down with the beer. “Let’s recover our quarry and vacate the premises post haste and ahead of the law. A good hunter never abandons wounded prey.” I hand the mask and snorkel to Brent.

Wounded?” he bleats, handing it back.

Dead, I mean, “Graveyard dead.” This metaphorical misrepresentation I hope will deploy Brent to the bottom of Cottonmouth Pond. Strictly speaking, neurons, or brain cells, distributed throughout a gator’s reptilian nervous system are only slightly more concentrated in a brain the size of a peanut, enabling this prehistoric anachronism to demonstrate prodigious physicality after being rendered, for all but a few practical purposes, kaput. I’ll bring the boys up to speed on all this during the debriefing. Right now we just need to raise the carcass and get out of here before the DNR shows up to toss two young asses and one old one in jail.

This isn’t my first nocturnal outing to this South Georgia wetland.  Before Brent and John loitered after English class wringing their ball caps and asking me to take them on the current expedition, I’d been to Cottonmouth Pond twice before. Dr. Charlie Hare brought me and his son Tal here in 1950 when we were under ten. No stranger to outings with his father, Tal nagged him to abandon the enterprise for ice cream. The gator Doc shot sank to the bottom. He probed around for it fecklessly with a gig until close to near closing time for the Arctic Bear. I’m still haunted by corpus delicti disappointment a half-century later, a memory intensified no doubt by the dubious closure soft serve provides. A timid touch to the cold mosaic belly of a recovered crocodilian might well have discharged the hoodoo. Perhaps I could’ve led a normal life without fixations for human and reptilian night life that have warped my passage through the world.

 I’m no gator hunter. Local legend has vested me in borrowed robes. Over the years I’d hand-caught plenty of small ones, taken them to class before releasing them back into their habitat or into private ponds to keep down snakes and turtles. I had not, after six decades on the planet, logged one confirmed gator kill. The gator I shot with Tripp Sylvester’s duck gun fell in with Dr. Charlie’s as a probable, though infected with a life-long herpetological fetish, up until the moment I try to pass the icy baton to Brent my reputation as a gator slayer was absolutely unsubstantiated. Nothing like Herbie Santos’s, a high school classmate of mine and John’s mother who financed his desultory tenure at UGA poaching gators and fencing hides.          

Still, inexperience isn’t the sort of thing a college professor confesses to students seeking expertise. “Alligator hunting is against the law,” I pointed out dutifully, “as indeed it should be.” They knew, but had permission from the owner’s son to kill all they want. One will do, I predicted. One gator is a full night’s work.  “The appellation derives from an anglicized corruption of el lagarto, Spanish for the lizard,” I pontificate. “If we go, the excursion will be treated as a field trip and you’ll be expected to write essays.

“The main consideration is a clean kill,” I continued on the way to my office. “A gator must be shot from behind–never in profile. A bullet of ample authority must strike precisely the point where backbone attaches skull, the medulla oblongata. This separates limbic ganglia and jaws from the rest of the luggage, shorting out the system. You don’t want to jump on a gator with a medulla oblongata in tact,” I assured my students.

*

Forty years after Doc Charlie infected me with obsession, Tripp Sylvester and I decided during cocktails at the Sylvester’s plantation home to take his son Bud gator hunting in this very pond, a finger of which bordered the property. Southern men get early starts encouraging their sons to break the law. Bud’s mother Bitsy didn’t want her eight-year-old gator hunting with tipsy fathers or at all, but the boy raised such a stink she could protect him from his father only by going along. Gynecological etiquette, the same practice that moves women to powder their noses together in public restrooms, dictated that whomever I was married to at the time go too. 

              Tripp stoically lashed together two aluminum canoes, tossed in a thermos of strawberry daiquiris and a 12 gage duck gun primed with buckshot.  We launched the makeshift pontoons– two couples dressed for cocktails and an eight-year-old kid, the wives strictly forbidden to make a peep. Right away our spotlight found dozens of paired eyes and some singles in profile, a boy’s fortune of alligators, fixed and winking taillights leaving a stadium after the game. Through Bud and a synchronistic intrusion of déjà vu, I revisited the past–the enchanting symphony of night I’d first heard with Dr. Charlie and Tal. The chorus of owls, woodwind cicadas and tremolo mosquitoes, bass harumps of bullfrogs harmonized into the tenor whonks of roosting birds. The same insects swarmed us, bewitched in artificial light. Jeweled eyes of crawfish set into tendrils of coontail moss. Quicksilver waterbeads on lily pads. It was exactly the same. An identical water snake, its head tugging a silver V across a glassy surface minnows etched at from below.

Tripp sculled up to an acceptable specimen, and I blasted it with a charge of double-ought. Pungent pond water rained upon us. The wives shuddered. The same gator Doc Charlie misplaced, or one like it, sank perfunctorily to the bottom. Not to be robbed twice, I took off shirt and shoes, donning the dive mask I’d borrowed from Bud.

“Don’t go swimming,” the boy warned. “He’s bound to be mad. He’ll eat you up and we can’t hunt arrowheads any more.”

Through the kiddy snorkel, I uttered distorted words that will haunt my dreams.  “Don’t worry, son. That alligator is graveyard dead.”

Indeed, it should have been dead. I’d dispatched it at close range, lifting off the top half of its cranium. Probability mandated that at least one pellet the size on an English pea had deactivated the medulla oblongata. Illuminated in spotlight periphery, the wives rolled their eyes. Bitsy pinched a moth from her slushy drink. I eased over the side into tepid water.

 “Goodbye,” Bud squeaked, chin trembling.

 “Hey buddy,” I honked, bobbing the ping pong valve, “I’ll be right back.”

 Lungs and cheeks full of night air, I plunged like Beowulf eight feet to a bottom covered in mulched leaves. The tannin-smirched water, dark as café solo at high noon, was absolute pitch after sundown. Bud’s goggles could’ve been full of tar. My third dive to the bottom found the gator motionless as a petrified log. Gingerly I fingered my way up rough scutes to a pair of chunky shoulders. I aimed the comatose gator toward the moon and I kicked us up like a surfboard. Nothing to it.

When we broke the surface, however, the reptile revived, lashing mightily and spinning away. It ploughed a wide, slow circle through moonlight, returning to where I hung dumfounded to the canoe. Wives screamed, spilling their daiquiris. “Hurry!” Bud cried. “It’s coming back to eat you up!”

With what specifics of dexterity I kipped into the canoe before the gator bashed it in remains a geriatric mystery, but a shotgun, I concluded, while effectively disrupting the reptile’s equilibrium and dispelling its natural fear of humans, lacked the surgical precision to disconnect the medulla oblongata.

So, for the current adventure Brent brought a .243 deer rifle. For backup I toted a magnum .44. John brought beer. The boys now suggest we find another gator to shoot, a small one in shallow water. Refusing the snorkel gear, Brent sits on his hands. “You said you was going to teach us how,” he says.

*

The fact that Cottonmouth Pond has been infested with alligators since the Jurassic was inconsequential to the DNR and to John’s mother, who’d gone to Albany High School with me, disapproving of John’s choice of English professor in the first place. She held some very unequivocal views of our field trip. Gator poaching was still against the law, just as it was when Doc Charlie brought me here in 1950 when game laws were  enforced less vigorously.

John’s dad, an accomplished business man and outdoorsman himself, was more philosophical. “Boys being boys,” he sighed. “Let him sew his wild oats and outgrow it. At least we finally got him in college.”

Maternal opposition to a boy’s passage into manhood is generally excluded from coming of age literature—the reluctant mother, broken birth cord and apron strings. I will learn of John’s mother’s sentiments from a subsequent essay. Brent told his mother he was going to the Dairy Queen for soft serve.

There’s something about hunting alligators that runs diametrically contrary to motherhood. My own mother raised the same holy hell Mrs. Hare, Bitsy, and John’s mother did–there’s something in a mother that doesn’t like a prehistoric reptile. Even mother alligators protect their offspring from fathers who left to his own appetite will gobble up the whole gene pool.

“Outgrow it? What if he doesn’t live long enough to outgrow it? What if he gets put in jail with hardened criminals? His teacher hasn’t outgrown it. He’s older than I am, scheduled to retire. When do you think, he’ll finish sewing his wild oats?”

 “Now, now,” soothed John’s father, “At least he isn’t adverse to spending time with students.”

“His students are the only humans left in Dixie naive enough to spend time with him!” John’s mother lashed back.

“Well, it’s hard to flunk somebody you’ve broken the law with,” his father reasoned, which for all practical purposes shut John’s mama up.

*

As we launched Brent’s canoe, repetition being key to learning, I re-briefed my protégés. The night is spangled with glowing red eyes, even more than when Tripp and I brought Bud, even more than when Doc Charlie brought me and Tal, hungry for soft serve, to Cottonmouth Pond. Alligators are less endangered now that Herbie Santos has been removed from the environmental equation.

I wiggled my light on a pair of ruby eyes. “Ease up to that one,” I told John, who paddled with one hand, sipping beer.

The gator floated parallel to us, only a gnarl of eyelid and knob of nose above the water, more than a foot between the two, indicating a seven to eight foot specimen. “OK Brent, he’s giving us his profile. Wait until he starts swimming away.”

When a gator floats, very little is up. To submerge, it sinks on its tail. When it swims, its back and neck rise, exposing the intersection of skull and spine where the well placed bullet disconnects jaws from running gear. The gator moved away, dragging a wake. “Good, good, a little closer, John. Crosshairs on the medulla oblongata, Brent. Easy now. Take a deep breath, let half out. Squeeeeze the trigger.  Let her glide now, John.”

“Mr. Miller,” Brent whispered. “Where’s the medulla oblongata?”

No time to scold, I touched the occipital bump at the base of Brent’s own skull, the switchboard center of his own limbic shenanigans. “Backpaddle, John!”

“We’re too close,” Brent hissed, “I can’t see nothing in the scope!”

Standing precariously in a squirming canoe, I drew my .44, steadying on Brent’s shoulder. The gator, three yards away paused. “Notice how we do this,” I whispered, blasting the reptile, ringing Brent’s ears for the semester, alerting game wardens over three counties.

The stricken gator drenched us in fetid water.  “I think you got him, Mr. Miller.” Brent tilted his head, pounding his temple with the heel of his hand.

“That, my boys, is how it’s done.”

 “What?” said Brent.

*

This eight-footer after lashing a wall of white water sounded straight to the bottom, as gators will, and because neither boy has actually pulled the trigger, both are reluctant to jump into a pond still fizzing swamp gas, and perhaps they have a valid point.  Tripp’s gator’s revival was a freak of nature, I tell myself, that won’t happen again in thousand years. Gators fed marshmallows in state parks or chronically disturbed by golfers at water hazards can’t always be counted on to retreat, but wild alligators almost never attack unless protecting their brood. Plus I’ve been haunted by a half century of failure in the alligator department. A thorough search won’t be required, anyway, just a perfunctory face-saving dip made brief by a possible run-in with an investigation official from the DNR.

“You said…” Brent begins.

“Hush,” I say.

             Trapped in my own rhetoric I strip to my underwear and flop into the chest-deep water. Weightless as an astronaut, I moonwalk through itchy moss, ginger footsteps launching farts of methane, and—Jesus!—I step barefoot slap on the son-of-a-bitch. It erupts through reflected constellations, reborn to boiling mayhem.  For the moment I’m lost in time. The gator– maybe the same one that bashed Tripp’s canoe or the octogenarian beast Dr. Charlie lost—circles, wagging its head. Disorientated and unable to stay submerged, it porpoises toward me yawning spastic jaws.

          “Help! Goddammit! Help!” A gator’s orientation must be seated in the medulla oblongata. Like Tripp’s gator, it wallows the surface, unable to swim straight or synchronize its jaws. But it can open them, and does, orbiting with wagging mouth agape, I dance back as it passes, reaching timidly for a trailing leg. It responds with a terrific slap of tail and a white explosion of déjà vu. If I can catch hold, I deduce, I’ll know which end’s which and where it’s at. “Shine the light!” I scream. “Shine the light!”

A gator shot precisely in the medulla oblongata can lose its natural fear of humans, I recall. It yanks away and boils the water. This is an enterprise for younger men. Faint angina nags my throat and jabs my jaw. More than death by coronary infarction, I fear a laughable end to a questionable career in academe—eaten alive while breaking the law in my underwear in the witness of freshmen assigned to write about it.

Hopping backwards in matador fashion, I avoid the beast once, twice. Urgency inspires colloquial diction: “If either of you little sons-a-bitches wants to pass English,” I wheeze, “you better jump in here and get you some alligator!”

Brent’s semester 78 puts him in fair stead, but John, on the precarious hump of a unwavering 69, is the better candidate for the task at hand. And John has crawled around a six-pack of beer. He splashes with graceless valor into the fray. Lusty screams follow: I got him, John! Oh, Jesus, he’s got me! Hold him, John! Hold him! Help, Brent! Hot Damn! Give us some light! This way! This way!

Crocodilians are capable of uncanny and energetic death throes, but cold-blooded critters shoot their wads, so to speak, quickly. A monster encumbered by a overweight professor and a borderline student primed on beer soon wears down, but not before I do. Brent oars over to administer a coup de grace with the pistol, enlisting me and John into a granfalloon of temporary deafness. I hang gasping on the canoe, demanding nitroglycerin from a small brown bottle iced down with beer. Brent places the tiny tablet under my tongue where it sits like a splinter of dry ice as I’m hauled with the defunct reptile into the canoe.

 Skinning the thing takes all night. It slaps and claws us butchering it. Forbidden flesh–white as crabmeat and pearly pink at haunches–twitches in guilty hands emphasizing life’s persistence and the shame of snuffing it. We’ll eat it, of course, but without celebration or sanction of law.

What else?  The stinking hide is kept a week and buried. The boys pass English with gentleman C’s provisional to discretion, but I’m not sure what I taught or learned  beyond the obvious—that alligators are too much work to break the law for?  Will one dead reptile free me from the void a lack of closure brings? Will Brent and John be spared the fetch of ponds and poetry late at night? From dragons rooted deep in human hearts, adventures dared to free ourselves from us.  

(end)

Comic Shorts from an Albany Upbringing

Mr. Slappey

By O. Victor Miller

  One personality epitomized Slappey Drive and a tourist‑eye view of Albany, Georgia, more than any other who frequented the sidewalks of the Good Life City– a singular old codger who wore a gray wool overcoat winter and summer. Mr. Slappey, a tall, crane‑like apparition presumably named for Slappey drive, not genetically related to the prominent Albanians of that surname, was declared “harmless” and was therefore allowed absolute freedom to roam up and down Slappey Drive selling sewing needles, which he skewered into the lining of his ankle‑length coat.

      It was rumored Mr. Slappey had been as right as rain until one day while walking in it he got struck by a bolt of lightning. Indeed, we thought he still held an electrical charge. A waxy scar the color of crabmeat ran from the center of his high forehead down parchment cheeks to his pointed chin, just the kind of scar celestial pyrotechnics might inflict. When Mr. Slappey placed his needles on the bar of the Rialto Pool Hall for the benefit of a potential customer, they would spin to magnetic north. His frizzled gray hair bloomed like a bushel of steel wool and his gray eyes gleamed like ball bearings.

      Everyone paid Mr. Slappey the respect due someone who had died and returned from the grave. We were afraid of him because he could fix you with a hypnotic gaze and preach to you about the apocalypse. He could charm you like a snake charms a bird and “scrutinize” you, taking a wild, deep glimpse into your soul.   He also had the uncanny ability to pivot his head sideways, perpendicular to his neck, so that his sparkling eyes fixed you vertically. And he could shrink his head. He’d tighten his toothless jaws so his chin touched his nose, and his head would reduce by one half, further emphasizing those eyes. It was weird. Mr. Slappey could wad up his face like a brown paper bag.

     Typically, he lurked on the curb in front of the Rialto until a tourist stopped for directions. Everybody else knew better than to stop. Mr. Slappey would get into a tourist’s car, offer to show him the Dixie Highway, direct him to wherever Mr. Slappey wanted to go, then abandon the pilgrim in some obscure part of town to fend for himself.

     Long after Oglethorpe was paved, becoming the east leg of U.S. 19 through town, the Toddle House appeared and Mr. Slappey extended his territory. The Toddle House was a boon for tourism, providing travelers with greasy breakfasts during odd hours of the night or day. This was long before the national campaign against cholesterol, and Toddle House cuisine was so loaded with saturated fats there was a rainbow oil slick in the urinal of the men’s room.

      One winter evening I was sitting on one of the red leatherette stools at the counter, eating scrambled eggs and hash browns. A tourist from Michigan sat next to me, drinking coffee. Besides the tourist there were an obese man and two women laughing and talking at a table when Mr. Slappey lurched in like Dracula, his overcoat flaring from the gust of February wind that followed him in. I watched through the mirror, not daring to turn around as Mr. Slappey marched over to the happy diners, standing over them, glaring with his sphinx‑like gaze. “What you laughing ‘bout?” he demanded.

     “Nobody laughing at you, Mr. Slappey. We just laughing,” the fat man grinned. “You just go away from here now and leave us alone. We ain’t said nothing that concerns you.”

     “You laughin’ at me ‘cause you think I’m crazy, but I ain’t.” Mr. Slappey’s voice quavered, his eyes shining like the chrome on a ‘58 Buick. “I can prove I ain’t crazy and prove you are!” I could detect the crackle of static electricity and a scent of ozone.

     “Now Mr. Slappey get a holt of yourself. Ain’t nobody here said nothing about you or nobody else in this cafe, but if you can prove you ain’t crazy and I am, we’d sure love to bear witness.” The fat man winked at the waitress, who eased away.

     Mr. Slappey reached into the deep pockets of his disreputable overcoat, pulling out a frayed, dirty and dog-eared document which he trumped to the Formica tabletop like a one‑eyed jack. “Here!” We all flinched.

     “Here what?”

     “Here hit is, right here–release papers from Milledgeville State Asylum for the Insane. If I was crazy, they never would’ve give me them papers or let me out.” He put his papers up and stood his ground. The document was too dirty for anyone near food to examine. “Well?” the old man persisted.

     “Well what, Mr. Slappey?” The fat man was starting to sweat. Mr. Slappey had started scrutinizing him.

     “If you ain’t crazy, where’s yore papers at?” Mr. Slappey tightened his mouth. His face contracted and his head tilted slowly, lining up his eyes.

     The tourist next to me spewed coffee across the counter, spraying the cook. He dismounted the stool, threw some money on the bar, and rushed out before Mr. Slappey could turn around and scrutinize him, and I, fearing presumed guilt of proximity, eased off my stool and followed the tourist out into the cold.    

(end)

Mr. Finney’s Electric Paddle

By O. Victor Miller

    Buddy Pollock was summoned suddenly during a mild rash of misdemeanor.  He’d flicked an oval spitball whose oblong eccentricity caused a radical slice, missing Benny Cohen and disappearing into Miss Fuqua’s ruffled neckline. She looked up from her book and her mouth made a perfect O.  She touched her fingertips to her plump sternum in a gesture to indicate we’d impaled her loving heart with barbed ingratitude. I say we because, although I hadn’t yet fired a single shot, my spitballs were lined and prepared along the edge of my desk in circumstantial incrimination.

     The tense moment was shattered by the voice of Mr. Finney himself through the rosewood intercom.  LEON POLLOCK, REPORT TO THE PRINCIPAL’S OFFICE.  The entire fourth grade bolted in their desks.  Holy cow, the intercom could see as well as hear and speak!  AND HAVE HIM BRING HIS BOOKS.  This summons, made more frightening by the third person reference to Mr. Finney’s own office, marked the last glimpse of  Buddy’s hide or hair—a finality which the other children sensed, touching the hem of his overalls as he passed down the aisle between first and second row.

      When Miss Fuqua returned teary‑eyed from escorting him to oblivion, she lied in a broken voice that Buddy’s father, a master sergeant at Turner A.F.B., had been suddenly transferred to Formosa, but we knew better.  Buddy Pollock had screwed around and got himself fatally interrogated. His bones would be discovered someday at the bottom of Radium Springs or washed up a sandbar in the Flint River. 

     Mr. Finney resembled a desiccated Abraham Lincoln, whom Southern children viewed as a great man who fought on the wrong side of the War between the States, but our Mr. Finney looked like Honest Abe would have looked if Nathan Bedford Forrest had overrun Washington and pillaged the Capitol.  And our Mr. Finney had an electric paddle according to the Stubb brothers, who should know.

     One of the Stubbs—I think it was Nailer—testified at recess that he’d been strapped in a sinister apparatus that plugged into a 220 outlet.  It was a heavy duty chair with wide leather restraining belts and a rotating paddlewheel beneath a recess in the seat.  As Mr. Finley strapped him in, Nailer took a deep breath, puffing up.  This maneuver affected a looseness of the chest harness which saved him from unendurable agony.  When Mr. Finney left the room to answer the phone, Nailer was able to elevate his nether cheeks just enough for the whirling blades of the paddle to barely graze him.  To this day some fifty years later, I remember Nailer Stubb standing with knees bent at 45 degrees and his palms down as if pushing against an immovable surface.  His face is frozen in a snarling rictus, like a woman applying lipstick in a rear view mirror.  The lights dimmed when Mr. Finney switched on the E.P.     

     We were hungry for every detail of the electric paddle, especially the blades, which Nailer called fins.  “What about those fins, Nails,” we implored.  At which juncture Nailer would saunter over to the pencil sharpener and remove the cover, exposing the rotary blades.  “It works sorta like this,” he said, spinning the handle.  “They’s two sets of fins that goes in a different direction,” he said wincing. “They’re six inches wide and fast as a buzz saw.”  Our horror impelled us to euphemistically label the electric paddle the E.P., as though mere mention of its full appellation could invoke application from the omniscient clone of the 16th president of the Union.

     “Couldn’t your daddy do something,” I had to know.

     “Shoot, daddy wisht he had one his own self, all the whuppings he’s got to shell out.”

     “Wow,” said Ben Swilley, transfixed by the rotary blades of the pencil sharpener, “something like that could eat the ass clean off a man.”

     “Or a woman,” added Toby Ann Hotchner, equally awed.

(end)

Wild Bill

By O. Victor Miller

     Albany was not without its own tourist attractions and celebrities. Wild Bill Chancey, the mentally challenged 30-year-old paperboy for The Albany Herald, wore a cowboy hat and cap pistols to collect for subscriptions. When Billy charged into Geechee Mark’s Rialto pool hall on Slappey Drive with pistols drawn everybody cooperated and reached for the sky.” Don’t shoot, Wild Bill,” they’d cry with raised cue sticks or mugs of beer. Geechee Marks, with one hand high would open the cash register with the clack of a red no‑sale sign and ding like the end of a round at a prizefight. Billy would holster one pistol, take Geechee’s proffered money, and, holding the rest of us at bay, he would back out the door, perhaps tipping his cowboy hat, perhaps not. Billy wouldn’t fire his cap pistols indoors, provided everybody froze.

   Subscribers paid up, too. Billy didn’t understand deferred debts or uncollectible losses. He’d stand right there. Hours, days, forever, until he was paid. You couldn’t run him off. And nobody tried to. Everybody respected the idea that you paid for what you bought—that and the fact that Billy wouldn’t leave your front porch until you did.               

     Of course, the day came when somebody who didn’t know Wild Bill got scared when he slapped leather. A tourist stopped off at the Rialto to ask directions just before Billy came in to collect for the paper. The traveler, timid about stopping in The Rialto in the first place, tiptoed up to the bar next to the resident wino and was waiting his turn when he found himself suddenly surrounded by people with hands high pleading, “Don’t shoot, Wild Bill!” He didn’t dare turn around, but when he saw the image of a thirty‑year‑old hombre with drawn pistols reflected in the jar of pickled eggs, he dived under a snooker table, ripping open the back of his Bermuda shorts.

     When the stranger broke ranks, Billy nulled him with a—KAPOW—shot that froze the terrified pilgrim into prenatal paralysis and left a layer of acrid white smoke in the air. Billy holstered one revolver, took his money and backed out, leaving Geechee to coax the visitor from beneath the table, dust him off and assure him he wasn’t in the lawless West. ”It’s just collection day at the Herald,” Geechee explained.

(end)

Trick-or-Treating Miss Fuqua

By O. Victor Miller

  Chan lived in a three story house on Pine Ave. across the street and cattycorner from Miss Fuqua’s rented lodgings. Miss Fuqua was our 4th grade teacher at Flint Street School, a shrine to our young hearts. We’d sit all night on the floor of Chan’s attic bedroom playing Cootie, a game which involved rolling dice and assembling plastic insects. It was supposed to be educational, but all I remember about it now is that a six got you a jointed leg. That and one night Chan’s daddy came up and taught us to shoot craps.

     Chan and I took turns going to the window to see if Miss Fuqua’s light still burned behind her shade. When her light went out, we’d sigh. “Egg custard,” I said, and Chan would nod knowingly. Egg custard was our code for the delicious undulations the tops of Miss Fuqua’s ample bosom made when she spanked our palms with a ruler.

     Chan and I were buddies before Miss Fuqua came into our lives, and we are pals now, but in those days the sole basis for our friendship was his residential proximity to Miss Fuqua. Sometimes Len Chestnut played Cootie with us all hours of the night, but he couldn’t understand our infatuation with Miss Fuqua, a teacher after all. Chan and I decided Len Chestnut didn’t know squat, and we quit asking him over.

     One Halloween I spent the night at Chan’s house for the express purpose of trick‑or‑treating Miss Fuqua. We showed up at dusk, dressed as pirates and wearing rouge and lipstick that our mothers put on us whenever we dressed up for school plays, costume parties, or Halloween. I’m surprised the whole bunch of us didn’t turn into transvestites the way our mothers put lipstick on us every chance they got. Anyway, we showed up at Miss Fuqua’s in knee stockings and rakishly cocked feathered hats we’d plundered from Chan’s grandmother.

     “Oh! Dance hall girls!” squealed the myopic Miss Fuqua, serving us scorched popcorn balls and hurrying back into the door. We were mortified, but we still hid behind the hedge to make sure nobody but us got any scorched popcorn balls or sabotaged Miss Fuqua’s porch with poopie bombs, which were flaming paper bags of dog feces that would spatter Miss Fuqua’s ivory ankles when she stomped out the fire. We hung around until the Stubbs Clan showed up. Then we timorously abandoned our post. The Stubbs didn’t bother to dress up for Halloween. They showed up in mass in the same overalls they wore to school and were scary enough running around as Stubbs.

     Back at the window of Chan’s attic bedroom, deflated and demoralized, we watched as the squat, bowlegged Stubb siblings  stood in a semi-circle around Miss Fuqua’s stoop. Nailer Stubb raised one leg to scratch a kitchen match on the hip pocket of his overalls and lit the poopie bomb while his sister, Clittie Mae stepped over a ludely grinning pumpkin to ring the door bell.

     “At least she didn’t recognize us,” I consoled Chan.

(end)

Henrietta

By O. Victor Miller

“You don’t remember me?” the lithe redhead scolded. She’d approached me outside Bookland in the Albany Mall. In her spikes she was taller than me. She had to lean down to peck me on the lips.

“You look mighty familiar,” I stammered. She wasn’t the kind of girl you forgot. “Give me a hint.”

“AHS Class of ‘60.”

“I need more.” She sure looked younger than me. Of course, I could tell she’d undergone some customizing. Her face was smeared back like she’d been racing a motorcycle and somebody had tied off the slack at the back of her head, and her boobs were too perky to have endured a half century of gravity. Her skin had the waxy pinkish glow of the recently embalmed. Although a little long in tooth, she was a pretty good looking old gal.

“Hank Musselwhite,” she grinned, winking and showing me her profile.

“Why, hell yes,” I said snapping my fingers as gauzy memories glided in to roost, “the football hero! You were Hank’s steady. You wore the green letter sweater and his class ring. Yeah, I remember now. Weren’t you a cheerleader, too? Homecoming queen? Didn’t we double date some? Hey, whatever happened to the old stud hoss?”

I was grinning to beat the band, still snapping my fingers.

“He’s me,” she laughed. “Well, actually I’m Henrietta now, Henrietta Bookman.

“Do what?” I tried to wipe my mouth with the back of my hand, but Hank, uh, Henrietta held me by the elbows. She leaned back and laughed, flashing lots of bonded teeth. I found myself standing in the runway of the Albany Mall, in the arms of a man, gazing into the depilated nostrils of an artfully bobbed nose. Whoa! And she must be married since she’s changed her last name.

“You leave that kiss right where it is,” pouted Henrietta, “and quit twitching your mouth.”

“I was gonna rub it in. Hey, are you married?”

“Sure, my husband’s a Medieval Lit. professor at Emory. You may know him, Ralph Bookman?”

“Professor Bookman, maybe I met him at SMLA. Any kids?”

“Course not, silly.”

Henrietta insisted we go into Yesterday’s for drinks and reminiscence of less complicated times. She had three or four Beefeaters martinis while I sipped orange Metamucil. “Before I made the switch, I felt like I was living a lie. I think there has always been a girl inside me struggling to get out,” she confided, “but I think it was, in the final analysis, the guilt that made me cross over.”

“Guilt?” There hadn’t seemed to be a girl struggling to get out of Hank Musselwhite when he was busting ass at football practice.

“Yes. People blame white heterosexual Anglo Saxon males for everything. They’re responsible for all the evil in the modern world and all of it in history. WHAMs, we call them. You name it: slavery, war, AIDS, sexism, whatever’s bad, you look far enough you’ll find a WHAM behind it. I just couldn’t carry the burden of evil.”

“AIDS?”

“Well, maybe WHAMs didn’t invent AIDS, but they couldn’t wait to start spreading it around. Why don’t they find a cure, just answer me that.”

“I guess they’d be pretty foolish not to find a cure if they could.”

I watched Henrietta pinch the olive out of her martini with brightly lacquered nails. She punched it in her mouth and worked it around with her tongue. She crossed her legs at the knees, exposing shapely hairless legs and acceptable calves, acting more or less like a woman, but I know the difference between women and men is a lot more than physical. Even if you underwent a radical metamorphosis like Hank had, there’d be psychological differences plenty. I was waiting for Henrietta to apply makeup right there at the table, which is what real women do. Impersonators go to the Ladies Room to freshen up. Real women will whip out a compact at a table in the swankiest restaurant, turn profile and stare at themselves out of the corner of their eyes. They’ll make a god awful face that smears their lips all the way back to their earrings. As soon as Henrietta pulled out a mirror I’d know if she’d mastered womanhood or not.

Women think they become invisible as soon as they look into a mirror. If you’ve ever watched one at a stoplight primping up, you know what I’m talking about. A rearview mirror is like king’s X in the femininity game. They stretch their mouth, maybe wiggle their tongue, and tilt their head back checking nose hairs. Then they snarl to investigate anything that might’ve gotten caught between their teeth. They drop their jaw, purse their mouth, and scratch at a bump on the tip of their nose. They put their little fingers in their mouth like they’re fixing to whistle, then slick their eyebrows down with the spit.

   If engaged men had any sense, they’d take the time to step out of their pre‑nuptial bliss long enough to candidly observe their betrothed. I don’t mean spy on them. Just watch them when they are unaware that you are around. Borrow a buddy’s truck, maybe get some Groucho glasses and follow them around. Check them out at stoplights, where they think they are invisible. If Ralph Bookman hadn’t had his nose so deep in Arthurian Romance, he’d have known there’s more to a woman than a banjo pelvis and a pretty face. ry this. Next time you see a woman primping at a stoplight, just honk your horn, point your finger, and wave. Pucker up, touch your lips with your fingertips, and roll your eyeballs. At first she’ll glare at you like you just jerked open the bathroom door. Then she’ll smile. Women like to be reminded they’re not invisible.

But the mirror reflex is just one psychological difference between men and women. There’s more to swapping gender than hormone shots and a boarding pass on a 747 to Sweden. For one thing, men view cosmetic surgery in an altogether different light than women do. I was surprised that Hank would subject himself to an anatomical overhaul, unless he was in a really bad auto accident that emasculated and mutilated him first.

By last call Henrietta was slurring her words and drooling into the beer nuts, but not once during our entire visit did she apply makeup in public. Once she staggered bowlegged back from the Ladies Room with lipstick that looked slathered on by a blind man with a putty knife. I’d reached my limit of fiber, so I asked the waitress for the tab and got up to leave. “Oh no,” insisted Henrietta, “this one’s on me. I’m liberated.”

“We need to keep in touch,” I lied. “You and Ralph ought to swing by the creek for a drink.”

“What fun!” she cried. “You all will have so much in common,” she winked, slapping me hard across the shoulders, as though there might still be a AAA linebacker corseted in there struggling to get out. “But don’t breathe a word to him about my—uh—childhood.”

“You mean he doesn’t know?”

“He doesn’t have a clue. There are still a few things about a girl’s past that a husband doesn’t need to know.

(end)

On Spanish Moss

By O. Victor Miller

     One thing that I know impressed migrating Yankee tourists was Spanish moss. The city fathers knew this too and incorporated it into the Christmas decorations that stretched across Albany streets. Tourists driving down Broad during the Yuletide season passed under gothic decorations of colored lights draped with traipsing banners of Spanish moss. I don’t know what the tourists thought of those decorations, but we Albanians thought they were beautiful, and we were proud that the City took them down after New Years Day, unlike our smaller neighbors, who left their holiday decorations up all year.

     Spanish moss whiskered the live oak tree that grew on the right‑of‑way of U.S. 19 in front of my house out at Radium Springs. So far as I know, this oak marked the furthermost point north that Spanish moss grew in any abundance on the Dixie Highway, at least the first place a southbound tourist could pull off the road and get a back seat full for souvenirs. Spanish moss, by the way, isn’t Spanish, and it isn’t moss. It’s an epiphyte relative of the pineapple or something. I don’t know if the tourists who stopped in our front yard knew this or not, but one fact these tourists most certainly did not know was that God made Spanish moss to provide a perfect habitat for chiggers—redbugs—and He made chiggers…well, I don’t know why He made chiggers unless it was to punish folks for the first disobedience in the garden. Chiggers burrow under your skin and cause first degree torment. The only way you can make them stop itching is to paint the place they went in with fingernail polish and smother them with your own meat.

     Sister and I would stand barefoot in slack‑jawed amazement in our front yard watching Yankees wrap great mounds of chigger‑infested moss on their heads and around their necks, making beards for themselves and their children while their effervescent spouses peered downward into Brownie box cameras immortalizing the penultimate moment before the chiggers realized their windfall.

     Eventually, the tourists noticed Sister and me standing there astonished.     “Oh, look at the poor little Rebel children. What’s your name, little girl?” a wide‑hipped woman in pedal pushers and high heeled sandals asked Sister one day.

     “See‑iss‑tah,” she answered, spinning—twisting her body back and forth, swiveling her head in the opposite direction as fast as she could— the centrifugal force blurring her pigtails and spreading the hem of her dress. Sister twisted so furiously, it looked like she was trying to drill herself into the ground.

     “See‑iss‑tah,” they all said, mocking her drawl. “Look at them. Aren’t they cute. I bet they can’t even read and write. Hold still, little girl, so I can take your picture.”

     Tillie, the Black woman responsible for our care, was the only one who could stop Sister’s spinning. “BE‑have!” she’d say, and Sister would wind down, but Tillie was in the house. The tourists finally gave up on Sister, heaped some more Spanish moss into the trunk and drove away grinning, but I could tell the illiteracy issue hit a nerve. Tears were slinging out from under those whirling pigtails. She wasn’t even in kindergarten yet. Of course, she couldn’t read. I tried to hug her, but the pigtails kept popping me under my chin. “Don’t worry about it, Sister,” I said. “Reading and writing ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.”

     But she pushed away and ran to the kitchen to find Tillie, our only known remedy for a broken heart. She hit her in a dead run, scrambling up her like a squirrel, burying her face in Tillie’s pinafore while Tillie held her with sudsy hands, wrapping her up in all that wonderful, salving love. While Tillie hugged Sister back to health, I outlined the source of the injury.

     “Hush up now,” Tillie soothed, “Who care you cain read? Least you got moe sense than to put redbugs in your head and pack you up some more for down the road.”

(end)

Hambone

By O.Victor Miller

Beneath the dance pavilion at Radium Springs where collapsible banquet tables were stored among doodlebug mounds, black chefs and waiters gambled with high school hoods. Every once in a while, responding to strong requests, they’d do the Hambone. They’d half-squat in their starched whites, slapping their thighs in rhythmic flurry, popping the O of their lips, while hoods, shirtless beneath James Dean windbreakers, howled like hounds:  Awroooooo!

Hambone, Hambone, where you been?

Been ‘round de world and I’m goin’ again,

Plipity, plipity, plippity, plop, plop

Hambone, Hambone, where’s yo wife?

In the kitchen cookin’ rice.

Plipity, plipity, plippity, plop, plop, plop!

Awroooooo!

The Hambone harmonized with the hiss of dancing feet on the dance floor and whatever was playing on the jukebox.

Just take a wa-alk down Lo-hon-ly Street to

Heart-break Ho-tel.

Plipity, plipity, plippity, plop, plop, plop!

Awroooooo!

 When we tried it, our Hambone sounded like a chicken held by its legs with its head cut off.

We non-hoods lingered like an odor around girls sunbathing above the platform because sometimes those sweetly indolent girls would ask us to rub concoctions of baby oil and iodine on the small strip of backs and shoulders above their one-piece bathing suits, but never their legs. They’d ask each other first, but none of them could ever do it because their straps were already undone. I’d sit in breathless hope that one of those adolescent beauties would ask me.

“Oh, aw-right,” I’d say, if one finally did, pausing as long as I dared, but quick enough to keep another boy from getting the job. The next move in the tribal courtship ritual was a general invitation to swim. “Anybody want to go swimming?”

This first broadcast typically went unanswered.

“Well, who wants to take a dip?” Followed by a more particular, “Becky, d’jew wanna go swimming?”

“Not now, I’m still cold.” She’d turn her head on the blanket, proffering her profile and pretending sleep.

I’d sit on my hands, watching for an upper lip to perspire through the baby oil. “Anybody want to go swimming yet?”

“Oh all right,” Someone would finally say. She’d swing to a sitting position, do her straps, snugging budding breasts into padded foam cups (we called girls stacked if their breasts were larger than ours). Then she’d slip on her flip-flops and saunter toward the platform, rubber soles slapping the pavement as she popped her bubble gum.

            Hambone, Hambone, where you been?

And I’d follow the perfume of baby oil, iodine, sunshine and bubble gum down the steps to the platform and down the half-submerged stairway that led us through the surface of the chilly water.

 Foremost among the things a dip in Radium made girls want to do was to shiver and get back out, but it was worth it. When Becky swam, the bottom of her bathing suit would ride up, offering a forbidden glimpse of alabaster. Leaving the water, she’d emerge dripping on the platform steps, hooking her thumbs into the elastic leg holes to snap her suit back to restored modesty– SNAP, SNAP–hooded eyelids eclipsing crescents of moon-blanched cheeks one at a time, bringing a lump to my throat and…then she’d wiggle her feet back into her flip-flops and saunter back to her friends, slinging water beads from pretty toes, and my young heart would go plipity, plipity, plippity, plop, plop! as though she led me by a golden string tied to my soul. Or something.

 Awroooooo!

(end)

Cantey

By O. Victor Miller

     Cantey Davis was a jock back then. His hero was Coach Bob Fowler, who’d won 15 Varsity letters at Earlham, the Quaker university at Richmond, Indiana. Coach Bob was 6’8” in the days when nobody else was tall enough to dunk basketballs. He inspired exemplary deportment without having to raise his voice. As a matter of fact, whenever Coach Bob wasn’t grinning, things got quiet. He was trying to teach Cantey to control his temper.

     Coach Bob’s brother Jim caught hawks and hunted with them. At the time he was off somewhere in South America catching a harpy eagle. Before he made a name for himself on Wild Kingdom, our mothers warned us if we didn’t study hard, we’d end up like that worthless Jim Fowler, though we thought it took a lot of class to choose a profession by a pun on your last name.

     I was sure to make my own fortune very soon after getting out of Dougherty County. I might go down to South America myself, I thought. Carve an enormous pecan plantation out of the Brazilian jungle and oversee it by horseback. I bet by God Margaret Wilson would listen up when I set up a concert grand piano for her in the grand hall of my antebellum mansion. I’d saunter in, remove my Panama hat from disheveled ducktails, lean against the doorway in my muddy English knee boots listening to Mozart with one critical eyebrow raised. I pictured her in a flowing white dress playing the concert grand or nursing me back to health from some romantic disease that didn’t involve dysentery or urinary discharges. Something like malaria, with cold chills and hot fevers. I’d lie in a high canopy bed, hovering near death, as she applied cold compresses to my winged temples. The idea of dying didn’t bother me a bit, nor did the fact that nothing in my high school curriculum had prepared me for carving out colonial plantations. In retrospect, I’ve known only two people in my life who contracted malaria. Mr. Haslam, owner of the Greatest Used Bookstore in the World, caught a fatal dose in Africa, and Jimmy Gray, who picked his up in Viet Nam. Jimmy assured me that malaria (at least the Vietnamese strain) isn’t romantic.

     Cantey, bound for Dartmouth on a football and academic scholarship, was saving his cash from a temporary job delivering Easter flowers in a bunny costume for his Uncle Jim Pace, the florist. Cantey was supposed to hippity‑hop from the delivery truck to the front door with floral bouquets husbands ordered for their wives. The best hippity‑hop Cantey could manage was a lope interceded by a spastic lurch among the barking dogs and the gaggles of children who swarmed him barking and screaming, nipping and grabbing at his cotton tail.

       The public danger lay in the disguise. The floppy‑ears and demented buck‑tooth smile of the headpiece innocuously masked a simmering rage stoked and maintained by teenage and adult tormentors who couldn’t estimate Cantey’s disposition and who didn’t, therefore, know when to let up, and at evening twilight of Easter Sunday, some tedious husbands with too much Jim Beam under their belts harassed a rabid bunny rabbit beyond the restraint Coach Bob had taught him.

     “You ain’t going to believe this,” a neighborhood spectator called in to 911, “but they’s a big pink rabbit at a Easter Egg hunt in Hilsman Park steady kicking ass.”

Puzzled police arrived on a broken field of scattered egg basket and wounded fathers, an enormous bunny with a missing tail and one amputated ear hulking back to a white van full of lilies, slamming the door.

(end)

 Celebrities

by O. Victor Miller

I used to wonder what tourists passing through on the way to Florida thought of Albany. Before Slappey was paved, it was a dirt road to Slappey Dairy, and the yankees headed for West Palm Beach or Delray came down the old Leesburg Road. Sometimes water filled the low areas of Jefferson where “Bubba” Champion would be waiting with a pony to tow stalled‑out tourists for a fee, but that was before my time.

Florida bound tourists thought they’d arrived when they got to Broad Street, which was bordered with palm trees. Nancy Cartmell in the Public Works department says the palms made her parents choose Albany when moving to a Southern city for Nancy’s asthma. Nancy’s doctor must have been experimenting with a kill‑or‑cure treatment involving pecan pollen. U.S. 19 (The Dixie Highway) ran down Jefferson to Broad, crossed the Broad Street Bridge and turned south on Radium Springs Road, right in front of my house. Tourists who stopped over for the night stayed at The New Albany Hotel, the Gordon, or Radium Inn.

   Celebrities sometimes came through Albany on their way to Florida. Sometimes they even stopped. Sister and I got an autographed 8Xll photograph of Sunset Carson, when that famous Hollywood cowboy’s 1942 Buick ran hot and he had to stop in Miller Motor Company for a thermostat.

Downtown Albany, called Automobile Row, was infested with new car dealerships. Besides the Buick place, there were Sloan Dodge, Bailes Oldsmobile, Phillips Studebaker, Stanley Brown’s Nash and Hudson, the Chevrolet place (owned by the Haleys), Aultman Cadillac/Pontiac, Haley Ford, Joel T. Haley Mercury, and Marks Desoto. Mixed in among the automobile dealerships were two mule barns, Holman and Farcus, on Broad and Pat Pelicano’s Bicycle Shop on Pine. Even broke, old Sunset could get a ride out of Automobile Row some kind of way, even if he had to swap out a hyperthermic Buick with bull horns on the hood for a brace of mules or a tandem Schwinn.

  Another celebrity, Chic Young, creator of comic strip “Dagwood and Blondie,” spent the night at Radium once, and I spilled his morning coffee in his lap when I bumped his elbow while touching the hem of the garment. Arthur Godfry came without his ukulele to the sports car races at Turner Field, and “Deacon” Andy Griffith spoke to the Lions Club once. My father made him autograph my white leather jacket with a ball‑point pen. When I was a teenager, Bo Diddley came and stayed long enough to marry Kay Reynolds, a white Radium Springs girl. That was about the same time that “ne’er do well boy” Ray Ragsdale changed his surname to Stevens and left town to make his fortune singing crazy songs. “There’s one who’ll come to no good,” our parents said.

The most important celebrity to visit Albany, however, was Brandon de Wilde, the child actor who co‑stared with Walter Brennan in “Goodby my Lady,” filmed on an Albany plantation. Brandon, who also played in “Shane,” actually STAYED with Jimmy, Geoffrey, and Connie Gray, who caused Brandon to fall from favor with us Radium Springs kids when they reported that Brandon couldn’t play because he was worth too much money to risk getting hurt. Brandon’s director didn’t worry so much about Albany kids, who they hired en mass to do anything that smacked of danger. Nearly every white male Albanian pushing sixty-five will tell you he was hired on as Brandon’s double for that movie, and he’ll be telling the truth. If everybody hired for the set of “Goodby my Lady” ended up in the film, the picture would rival “The Ten Commandments” and its cast of thousands. The only lasting result to the community was that none of my male contemporaries after Brandon’s visit aspired thereafter to become Hollywood actors. In fact, though lots of Albanians my age have become famous enough to change their names or wish they had, none of us became Hollywood actors. They weren’t allowed to play.

(end)

Fast Food

By O.Victor Miller

   From 1948 on, vacationers headed for the Sunshine State could stop in Albany for fast food. The Dairy Queen (1948) inspired Norton Johnston to open the Arctic Bear June 15, l950, when that polar bear on the corner of Oglethorpe and Slappey started licking that ice cream cone he’d slurp for decades. The Pig ‘n Whistle came that September. In those days Slappey was paved two‑lane to Whitney, then dirt to Newton Road. Oglethorpe was gravel until the “New Bridge” was built in 1953 and the Dixie Highway moved over from Broad to Oglethorpe.

      By the time I was old enough to drive, tourists headed south down Slappey Drive would pass the Pig ‘n Whistle, where the girls sat parked in the family Oldsmobile, eating curb service barbecue and French fries while we guys drove through with our arms hanging out the window, pressed against the door to make biceps. We were looking for respect. In our primer painted Fords and Chevrolets with shaved hoods and heads, souped‑up block and V‑8 engines, we drove through “The Pig” ostensibly unaware of the girls we were trying to impress. We scratched off, peeled rubber, out on to Slappey, not paying the least attention to tourists, nonchalant in our ducktails and flattops. The City police would pull us over for “getting rubber,” but not usually ticket us for “pealing out” of the Pig ‘n Whistle, out of deference to our courtship rituals.

     After the girls went home at eleven, the boys gathered in the Arctic Bear parking lot to fight—”to rumble”—obliquely over the girls, who were by this time sitting around in shortie pajamas and hair curlers at gatherings called slumber parties. The fights were to juggle reputations, upward mobility in a pecking order of badass. A car with New Jersey plates was there the night pallid Billy Hall, who looked like he’d been rolled in flour, removed his McGreggor button‑down shirt with a gust of macho flourish in preparation for battle. “Watch out Hall!” Ben Swilley yelled over the cheering aficionados, “You’ll get moon burn.”

      On another Saturday evening in The Bear parking lot, an Ohio family watched in amazement when the Albany Police showed up to defuse an altercation of riot proportions caused when a teenage slick in a chopped and lowered Merc made an inappropriate proposition to another slick’s youthful mother. The police began rounding up teenagers and shoving them into police car backseats but neglected to lock the opposite door. Johann Bleicher got away three times before he was finally handcuffed to Marion Cartwright, who got bit by the Police dog and sued the city. It was the first time we’d ever seen honor defended by jurisprudence.

(end)