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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
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.”
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!
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
Plipity, plipity, plippity, plop, plop, plop!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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