"Well, I'll Be John Brown"

Real stories about folks who have blessed my life with the joy and fulfillment of laughter. Long may they live.

Location: Atlanta, Georgia, United States

A Southern Boy - Born In Alabama, Reared In Georgia, and Matriculated, Married & Initiated Into Manhood In Tennessee.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

"Before This Night Is Over..."

Tom Cruise would have had nothing to fear from Scott Thomas. Ditto George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon.

But, on one April Saturday night in 1974, in the back seat of an old Ford Fairlane, a nervous young lady who had been talked into a blind double date by her first cousin was not so lucky.

Scott Thomas was tall, raw-boned, and clumsy as a yearling. He had a head full of flaming red hair, and a face covered with freckles. He wore Dickey work jeans and insulated hunting boots to high school - in the middle of downtown Atlanta - during the hippie dominated culture of the 1970's.

When he talked it was like listening to Gomer Pyle, Briscoe Darling, and Larry the Cable Guy all in one voice. If a baying coon dog could have ever spoken a human language, the sound would have been remarkably similar to Scott's talking voice.

From his boyhood Scott invented all sorts of interesting phrases which meant nothing, but sounded slick - at least to him. For instance, if you passed him in the hall on the way to class, he would answer your greeting with a high-pitched, "Aww-Gaww."

No one ever asked him what this utterance meant.

Also, instead of mimicking the fad phrases of the time such as, "right on!," or, "far out, man!," Scott walked his own path. When something really impressed him he would stick out his hand for a "low-five" and in a hybrid sort of yodel/whisper would say things like, "daddy rabbit!," or, "boy, howdy!"

On most days Scott smelled like "Cooter," his German Shepherd. There was absolutely no indication whatsoever that he had been present in Health Science class on the days when coach Kennerly talked about male personal hygiene. When Scott went hunting, he never had to wear manufactured scents such as deer urine in order to attract white tail buck or any other wild game. His natural bouquet was sufficient. They all seemed to accept him as kin.

One other endearing trait of Scott's was his annoying tendency to repeatedly perform a very unique head movement. The movement itself consisted of two animated blinks of the eyes, three rapid shakes of the head, and a twitch of the mouth - always to the right side. It was assumed that he picked up this quirk as a little boy, and then proudly wore it as his calling card throughout adolescence and into early puberty.

The maneuver was usually performed swiftly and with great frequency. It is unlikely that anyone ever counted the number of times this spasm occurred during a given time period. It would have been, however, a safe bet that its frequency was at least eight or nine times per minute.

(Scott fired off this movement with an almost rabid intensity on that ill-fated blind double date night in April of 1974.)

With distinguishing features such as these, it was pretty much a given that Scott's dance card was rarely if ever going to be full on any Friday or Saturday night. If the rest of the entire male gender had suddenly been extinguished from the face of the earth, Scott would probably still have had a doozie of a time finding a consenting female companion among the eligibles in his high school.

Still, this big overgrown kid was, "warm and willin,'" as Travis Tritt says in the song, and extremely available.

Scott's best friend was Ricky Stephens. They had been neighborhood running buddies since elementary school. Ricky was a handsome, dark complected young man about the same age and grade level as Scott. Ricky could have had any number of young fillies as his steady were it not for his extreme shyness. He wound up marrying one of only two girls that he ever dated.

This brings our story to the mother of all dates.

One Saturday afternoon in April of 1974, Scott was outside washing his daddy's pick-up when his mother came to the door and said that Ricky was on the phone. "What are you doing tonight?," was the first thing out of Ricky's mouth when Scott picked up the receiver. When Scott affirmed that he was free, Ricky said, "Be ready about 6:30, man...We're going on a double date."

Ricky went on to explain how that earlier that afternoon he had finally convinced Sherry Metcalf to go out with him!

Sherry was a cute little brunette with cat-eye glasses, who lived just up the street from Ricky. Like him, she was on the shy side - but had a great body, and had gotten a reputation as perhaps the best kisser in the community. This most likely came from her performance during neighborhood sessions of "spin the bottle" and "five minutes in heaven."

"Five minutes in heaven" was a lot like its cousin, "spin the bottle," except that for five minutes (more like a minute and a half) you got to go into either a nearby closet or other room, with the door shut and locked, and experience the sweet and blessed rewards of having had the bottle land on someone like Sherry Metcalf.

During one of these very sessions with Sherry, Ricky had fallen in love.

Sherry's acceptance of Ricky's invitation was contingent on him finding a date for Sherry's cousin Judy, who was visiting from Valdosta with her parents.

"What does she look like?," Ricky asked - before promising to find a second guy for the evening's festivities. "She's cute, smart, and has a great personality!," Sherry answered, somewhat defensively. Ricky understood immediately that this was female code for, "She bears a strong resemblance to something like a cross between a possum and a moose!"

"Don't worry, I've got just the fella," Ricky promised..."They will be perfect for each other...Be ready about 7:00!"

"What does she look like?," was the first question out of Scott's mouth. "I don't exactly know," Ricky explained, "but from what I hear she has got a bodacious 'rack' on her," (tapping into the moose image of cousin Judy that had earlier flashed through his own mind) .

At the adventuresome age of 17, most southern males are motivated to overlook even the most glaring facial imperfections, as long as the girl's bosom is equal in size to your average grapefruit or small cantaloupe. When Ricky had finished explaining the potential of cousin Judy's anatomical features, there was really only one thing Scott could say...


The date was on!!!

When the guys arrived at Sherry's, Ricky was sweating it. "Man, I hope Sherry's cousin is not flat chested!," he thought, not wanting to disappoint, or be found a liar in the eyes of, his friend. More importantly, Ricky had hopes that cousin Judy would sport at least some cleavage so that Scott's energies and focus would be confined exclusively to the back seat. That way, Ricky and Sherry could have some uninterrupted peace and quiet during their own precious moments of anatomical discovery.

What a relief it was when the girls answered the door.

Sherry looked great! And, cousin Judy - well, let's just say that she was everything both young men had secretly prayed for, and about three cup sizes more. A rather skimpy halter top confirmed this fact before God and the rest of the sighted world.

Cousin Judy was truly nobody's Miss America, but it was obvious to all observers, trained or otherwise, that the Good Lord had blessed her in ways unquestionably worthy of a young man's gratitude. Scott's countenance was glowing - and his head was "going to town" with spasms of the special cranial movements he was famous for! Even a dating novice like Scott Thomas understood what a fine physical specimen this was that stood before him.

"Looks like old 'daddy rabbit' hit the jackpot tonight!," Scott whispered "out loud" in Ricky's ear as the four of them stood there on Sherry's front porch - exchanging awkward blind date greetings with cousin Judy and checking each other out.

Eventually they all piled into Ricky's daddy's 1968 Ford Fairlane and sped off to the local drive-in. A double feature of Godzilla movies was on the bill for that night. "Five minutes in heaven" couldn't have held a candle to what this particular evening was promising.

Little did anyone know that the ride to the drive-in would turn out to be more like, "five miles from hell."

Ricky's driving experience that evening was a busy one. For the duration of the trip it was: look at Sherry, watch the road, look at Sherry, check the rear view mirror to see what was happening in the back seat, watch the road, look at Sherry.

The girls were giggling and chattering away, likely out of sheer nervousness.

Scott hadn't said one word since they got in the car.

His eyes, though, were speaking volumes!

"Don't stare at them," Ricky whispered to himself, as he looked back and saw Scott blatantly glaring at the mammary gland paradise sitting next to him.

"Hey Scott, tell Judy about that twelve pointer you killed back in the fall!" Ricky was trying his best to snap Scott out of the trance he had fallen into - desperately hoping to keep Scott from offending cousin Judy.

After all...No cousin Judy - No Sherry - No Sherry - No fun!

Ricky had his work cut out for him.

Several very apparent attempts to get Scott to start talking and stop gawking failed. Even one of his patented, non-sensical noises would have been better than the lustful silence that was emanating from the back seat...

Finally, the dam "busted"...

Scott suddenly slid over in the seat, snaked his arm around cousin Judy's shoulder, and pulled her close enough for her to be overcome with the smell of "Cooter." About this time, Ricky had to stop for a traffic light. The drone of the tries on the road quieted. Too, almost as if it had been cued by an angel from above, or by a demon from beneath, the radio suddenly went silent - nothing but dead air.

All things had fallen into place...The world was on the edge of its seat...Scott Thomas was about to unleash the mother of all blind date remarks.

Cousin Judy looked up at Scott and smiled nervously...

Bless her heart...As well as the rest of the beautiful and bountiful chest that adorned it...

She looked deeply and inquisitively into the eyes of her blind date...

Scott pointed the index finger of his huge right hand in a wildly animated manner toward Judy's chest and boldly said...

"Before This Night Is Over, I Am Gonna' Git Them T_ _t_es!!!!!"

The thick steel walls of that old Ford Fairlane kept surrounding cars and pedestrians from hearing the screams, the name calling, and the initial crying and wailing that came as a result of Scott Thomas' revelation.

The only sound that was unmistakably distinguishable was that of Sherry's voice screaming violently at Ricky, "Take us home, NOW!!!"

One can only assume that, somehow, and at some point either during or after that memorable and eventful night, things finally turned around for the couple in the back seat...

Now, thirty years later, Scott and "cousin" Judy Thomas have three boys of their own!


LIB John Brown

Thursday, May 05, 2005

"Bad Breath Borland"

Being a high school senior is a sweet thing indeed.

Perks of all kinds come to seniors. Open campus lunch periods, serving as teacher's aides, and the sovereign power of being a hall monitor while class is going on, are just a few of the senior privileges that the lower strata of student population scum can only dream about.

One of the most memorable things about being a high school senior is that teachers begin to show you at least some of the respect that you felt was due way back when you first landed on campus as a freshman. Seniors have paid their dues, and commonly feel in every way equal to the full grown adults that have taught them on a daily basis for four years.

Tilmon Crowder was just such a senior.

Born and bred in the extremely working class section of Atlanta known as Bellwood, Tilmon was rough as a cobb and, at least in his own mind, tough as a pine knot. He was a tall kid with knappy, "brillo" hair. Some of his fellow students called him, "Peach," because of his frizzy, fuzzy head of hair. The tougher kids in school whom Tilmon knew could easily kick his rear end were the main ones who called him "Peach." Sometimes, though, in hushed and secretive tones, even the ninety-eight pound weaklings dared to refer to him in this way also. The nickname just fit him too well for his schoolmates to leave it alone.

When the Good Lord allowed man to invent the word, "loud," He must have had Tilmon Crowder in mind. His was the only set of lungs among a 1,400 member student body that could be heard distinctively above the sound of a 125 member marching band, and 1,274 other loud, screaming voices during the Friday football pep rallies in the school's old gymnasium.

Everyone wondered how Tilmon got to be a senior in the first place. If he had ever earned anything higher than a "C" it would have only been because some teacher's aide had been charged with entering the final course grades into the class ledger, and Tilmon had either offered a substantial bribe or else threatened torture (or death) by some insanely violent means. There were no division 1-A schools knocking on Tilmon's parent's door with the offer of a full academic ride. His only "degree" would eventually come from "Blue Collar U."

Tilmon, as one might guess, hated "schoolwork." School - to him - was social time, play time, and party time. Schoolwork was an intrusion, a necessary evil, and and his mind nothing more than an opportunity for the snot-heads to show off in front of the teacher.

Tilmon had his own ways of showing off.

Seeing them as his equals - or himself as theirs, Tilmon had no reservations about proposing things like: offering to rub the tired feet of the school's youngest and cutest English teacher, Miss Johnson, or volunteering to take the head football coach's brand new pick-up truck out for an oil change and lube, or suggesting that he make a hamburger and onion ring run for the marching band drum section and band leader during fourth period. Tilmon was always ready and willing to provide services that even the school's support staff could and would not do.

Most of his teachers understood that there is usually a Tilmon Crowder in every class, and in most every school. Normally, they accepted his brown-nosing tendencies with a hearty laugh or two, and then simply sent him back to his seat and back to work. To them he was little more than a modern-day "Eddie Haskell."

Coach Miles Duncan was the only teacher who couldn't and wouldn't tolerate Tilmon's mumbling as he walked back to his seat after one of these exchanges. Coach Duncan had been an All-America linebacker for a major southern university during his playing days, and was built like a small mountain. He once offered to rip Tilmon's head off and puke down his neck if he did not shut up the mumbling under his breath and get back to his seat. Tilmon seemed to understand the "gospel according to coach Duncan" as it was preached to him on this occasion. And evidently, he never doubted for a moment "coach's" ability to fully keep his promise.

One other teacher that simply could not tolerate Tilmon Crowder's overgrown tendencies was a science teacher named Mr. Borland.

Daniel Borland was a small, frail man, who wore large coke-bottle eye glasses. His modest teacher's wardrobe included neckties with double Windsor knots in them as big as coach Duncan's fist. In today's culture he would likely be referred to as a "geek." We just called him "Mr. Borland." That said it all.

Mr. Borland was not married. It was long debated among those who came through his classes as to why there was no "Mrs. Borland." Most of the football players believed that he was of the "left-handed" sexual persuasion. During class, all the athletes made sure to sit as far away from Mr. Borland's desk as they possibly could. The humiliation of having Mr. Borland to come stand by one of them and "diddle" his fingers on their notebook while he was lecturing was the one thing that no jock, especially during the 1970's, would have ever lived down.

For some reason, Mr. Borland did a lot of "diddling" back in those days.

The most blatantly obvious reason why Mr. Borland had never found a Mrs. was evident every time he opened his mouth within six inches of someone else's face.

It was his breath.

No one in the history of halitosis ever needed a mouthful of Scope like Daniel Borland. During his murderous, dictatorial regime, Saddam Hussein could have used "Borland Breath" as a substitute for Ricin, anthrax, or mustard gas, and would have easily killed just as many of his people. Mr. Borland's exhalation(s) could also have been used as an effective herbicide in wiping out entire fields of kudzu. Further, any number of auto body shops throughout Atlanta could have used Mr. Borland's potent aeromatic breath to strip the paint jobs off repair vehicles.

"Bad Breath Borland," as the poor guy had come to be known, had quite a reputation. Tilmon Crowder, however, also had quite a reputation. They were as destined to clash as two hungry rottweilers after the same dish of food.

Third period "senior" science class began that Friday morning in the normal fashion. Mr. Borland called roll, and Tilmon was the only absentee. Anytime there was a long pause after roll call, the class knew this to be a hint that Mr. Borland was frustrated about someone or something. "Anybody seen Tilmon Crowder today?," Mr. Borland asked the class. No one said a word. Students looked down at the floor, some stared out the window, and others whispered silently to themselves.

You could have heard a gnat's whisker hit the floor.

"I know he's at school today...I saw him earlier - carrying a bag of Hardee's food into somebody's classroom," a football player named "Tele Savalas" Williams (his real name) said from the back of the room. Tele had a twin brother who also played football. His name was, "Isaac Hayes" Williams. Somebody's mama watched a lot of Thursday night TV and listened to way too much R&B while she was pregnant.

"I saw him too," said Anthony Cleveland, who also wore coke-bottle glasses and big knotted ties to school - Mr. Borland had been his idol for four years. Some wondered if he was Mr. Borland's secret love child from some torrid affair with another science teacher. Naaaah...Anthony was most likely just a Borland groupie. Perhaps the only one in history.

No one ever got close enough to Anthony to smell his breath either.

Following roll call, and before Mr. Borland could go on with class, you could hear it. The loud slamming of the third floor hall door, the even louder whistling of "Stairway to Heaven," and the sound of Master brand padlocks on each student locker being "flipped" as the culprit walked slowly down the hall. These approaching sounds served notice to all - Tilmon Crowder was about to arrive!

When he rounded the door-facing and walked into the classroom, Tilmon was in a, "top of the mornin' to ya" kind of mood. As he walked by, he gave Mr. Borland a big "thumbs up" with one hand, while pitching an orange up in the air with the other. He didn't stop whistling Led Zeppelin until he had reached his table, kicking the seat out and plopping down next to, you guessed it, Anthony Cleveland.

"What it is, ya'll?," Tilmon greeted the class. The class did not respond.

"Mr. B," he said loudly, "Yo' man Tilmon is now officially present and accounted for...Anything I can do for you today - my good man?," Tilmon asked Mr. Borland with a wink - as he simultaneously peeled the orange - flicking each peel toward the trash can as if he were shooting free-throws - and making only about every third or fourth one.

One never knows just what the breaking point is for a person of small stature. Intellect, refinement, good manners, puny little biceps, and perhaps even bad breath can all be effective measures of temperament camouflage. Like the hidden but flaming red fires of a steel mill, sometimes the impulses that go on deep down inside a petite heart, soul, and body are actually more befitting those of a mad, raging bull.

That day, the seniors in third period science saw for perhaps the first time in their young lives the undisputed wrath of God - as interpreted and displayed by Daniel Borland. In almost a demon-like chant, Mr. Borland poured forth the fury of a provoked, mad scientist.

"You're late, again, Mr. Crowder, THAT'S 'what it is'!!...And, my name is not 'Mr. B'...Just as your name is not 'Timmy' nor 'Peach', as some of your friends and classmates are given to referring to you!!...My name - to you, young man - is 'MR.' Borland'!!!...AND...You are NOT 'my man' - nor anybody else's for that matter - mainly because of the childish, irresponsible way you approach not only your schoolwork but your life as well!!!...AND...What YOU can do for ME today, Mr. Crowder, as well as for the rest of your teachers and fellow classmates, is that you can start to GROW UP!!!...AND...Maybe, just maybe, you can begin today to act like a responsible student instead of the overgrown juvenile delinquent that this entire school believes you to be!!!!!...Am I making myself clear, Mr. Crowder???"

The more he said, the louder he became...The louder he got, the closer he came...Like a mad dog stalking its enemy, "Bad Breath Borland" was in Tilmon Crowder's face before you could blink!

The veins in his neck, the flush in his face, the clenched hand wrapped tightly around the ruler he always held during roll call, and the violent shaking of his tiny, fragile body were likely the ventings of pent up frustration from perhaps years of dealing with academic riff-raff like Tilmon Crowder. Whatever the motivation - one thing was clear - this normally dignified little educator was only about three seconds away from physically lighting into Tilmon Crowder like a buzz saw into a tree stump.

"Well do I, Mr. Crowder?," Mr. Borland loudly asked. "Do I make myself clear?"

Tilmon seemed lost for the moment - in either complete disregard for, utter denial of, or simple-minded indifference to, the danger that he was facing. The class was unanimously hopeful that their class clown would say the wrong thing in response, and thus wind up creating an even bigger confrontation - after all, as long as this kind of thing was happening, there were no dull science lectures being given. Too, they had never seen this side of Mr. Borland before. Not a single soul would have guessed that they would be witnessing this kind of show in third period senior science on this Friday morning.

Momentarily gathering his wits, and in typical Tilmon fashion, the reply that Mr. Borland waited in anguish for finally came...

"Whoa, Danny...Go easy, bro...Old Tilmon was just trying to help...", he said - shrugging his shoulders, rocking back in his chair against the table behind him, and looking around at his fellow classmates as if to gauge their reaction to it all.

Mr. Borland lowered his upper body even more closely to Tilmon so that they were practically nose to nose.

Before Mr. Borland could react further to this flippant rebuttal...

Tilmon Crowder made a hideously sour facial expression, fanned his right hand back and forth through the small space between their two noses, and drove the final nail into his own obnoxious coffin...

"Son!!," he exclaimed..."They don't call you 'Bad Breath Borland' for nothing!!!"

Over thirty years later, Tilmon Crowder still holds the exalted distinction of being the only graduating senior in the history of his old Atlanta high school to have received his high school diploma while in a full body cast.

LIB John Brown

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

"That Long Haired Hippie And His Mickey Mouse Watch"

"Johnny" was a young Hispanic fellow originally from Brownsville, Texas.

He was an ace carpenter who came to Georgia in the 1970's because work was plentiful, wages were good, and there was this trouble back in Brownsville that involved a woman, liquor, somebody's stolen Colt Dragoon pistol, and jail time. Johnny was hardworking, dependable, and a whale of a good carpenter. No one bothered to ask him a lot of questions about his past.

Johnny did good work and unapologetically expected the same out of others. The foreman always put new-hires with Johnny knowing full well that they would be made to work, and that hopefully they would learn something while watching and helping Johnny do his craft.

Some plans, however, look good on paper but come apart like wafer-thin toilet paper when applied to the derriere. This was just such a plan.

Johnny not only expected a lot out of his co-workers, he literally and absolutely despised laziness, incompetence, sorriness, and stupidity. This, coupled with an extremely high strung, "Type-A" personality, made Johnny one that could never have been accused of having the patience of Job.

Building the ark would have been a real challenge for Johnny.

To top it off, whenever Johnny would lose his temper he would curse, loudly, and in his native Spanish tongue.

Construction jobs are famous, or infamous - depending on your point of view, for their imposing and sometimes deafening noise level. The collective roar of saws, hammers, drills, heavy equipment of different varieties, the slamming of building materials, and a hundred other things have made many a good construction worker lose his hearing, if not his sanity. However, whenever Johnny got on the warpath because of either a co-worker or some other matter that had activated his trip-wire, the tirade of Spanish expletives ("wet-back cussing" - as he called it) could be heard loud and clear above all other noises.

Only the voice of the arch-angel and the trump of the Good Lord could have outdone him on these occasions.

What a show it was to watch and hear - all from a safe distance!

Once, Johnny got a real surprise when he showed up for work one Monday morning. The boss had done found him a brand spanking new helper. A long-haired, older teenage kid had shown up right off the street that very morning saying he needed a job. His "resume": no construction experience, no hammer, no tool-belt, no measuring tape, nor any other implement of the building trade. The only thing this new helper had besides his clothing and tennis shoes was a watch. He was little more than a warm body. Evidently, that day the superintendant had been desperate for warm bodies.

"Where's Johnny?," the superintendant asked the foreman. "We've got him a new side-kick!" Everybody standing in that construction trailer that morning began smiling. Everybody except the kid. He was the only one who didn't have clue as to what was about to happen.

You could almost see the the steam slowly rising from Johnny's head and ears on that cool morning as the foreman informed him of, and introduced him to, his new co-worker. "Blankety-blankety-blank-blank, why you stick me with this blankety-blank long haired hippie?," he mumbled as the foreman walked away - trying to hide his ever expanding grin.

One of the other things Johnny hated with a passion was long hair.

"Come on, sweetie, let's go to work," he said - shaking his head and looking disgustedly in the direction of his new apprentice.

Anyone who has ever worked on a construction job knows the unspoken gospel regarding the three most important times of the day: break time, lunch time, and quitting time. Starting time is negotiable but the observance of break time, lunch time, and quitting time are not. B, L and Q time begin, without exception, at precisely the very milli-second they are scheduled - if not several minutes before.

It just so happens that on this first day with his new hippie co-worker, Johnny had left his trusty pocket watch at home. "Can you tell time?," Johnny asked - gesturing toward the young helper's watch. When the young rookie affirmed that he could, Johnny snapped, "Good, then one of your jobs is to let me know when it's ten o'clock - that's break time, and then when it's twelve o'clock - that's lunch." The kid said he thought he could handle the job.

The morning slowly passed with little or no incident. Everything Johnny told his new laborer to do, he did - but only after pulling his long stringy hair back out of his face for the hundredth time. Johnny offered to fix the hair in a pony tail, saying that he would fasten it with a piece of rusty clothesline wire that he kept in his tool belt.

The boy did not accept Johnny's offer.

After what seemed to be an eternity, Johnny's stomach began to growl. "Got to be break time," he said out loud. "Nope," said his helper, "only 8:45." Later in the morning Johnny said again, "You sure it ain't break yet?" The kid said, "Naaah, it's only 9:30." Johnny was getting a little weak in the knees when he inquired again about the time. The boy shook his head, "Not yet...almost...about ten minutes 'til."

Johnny had gotten busy and had almost forgotten himself when suddenly he turned - without warning - grabbing the young helper's watch hand. When he saw the time Johnny let out a loud shriek, "It's 10:30...dude, why didn't you tell me?" "You seemed busy, I didn't want to disturb you," was the reply.

Johnny's face turned every shade of red there is in Arizona's famed, "painted desert." He shook his finger in his partner's face and said, "OK...little Miss hippie long-hair...NO BREAK!...We missed it because of you!...If you let me miss lunch I'm gonna shave your stinkin' head with a rusty sheetrock knife!...Comprende?"

As the morning dragged on, the scene was the same. Johnny would ask the time...The helper would give it. Each time it seemed like four hours had passed. Finally, Johnny asked if it was lunch. "Actually, it's almost three minutes 'til twelve," the helper said.

Relieved, Johnny started taking off his tool belt and looking for his lunch pail. He was famished.

About that same time the foreman walked in, took one look at Johnny and said, "Pablo...(Johnny hated it when the gringos called him by that name...Since his first morning on the job, "Pablo" had stuck as THE name his co-workers used when trying to kid or "razz" him)...where in the (you know what) have you been?...Aint' you hungry today?"

Before Johnny could answer, the foreman facetiously continued, "Man, it's almost one o'clock...Lunch is done over!...What's the matter with you, son?...Can't you tell time, amigo?..."

Johnny took one exasperated look at his apprentice, reached in his tool belt, pulled out a gigantic framing hammer and threw it in the direction of his young timekeeper. "Blankety-blank you, you slimy, good-for-nothing hippie...You and that blankety-blank Mickey Mouse watch of yours has done cost me my break and my lunch...When I get through with you...they'll have to dig that blankety-blank Mickey Mouse watch out of your skull!"

The last time that young new-hire was seen, his long dark locks were blowing and flapping like a flag in the wind as he ran for his life out the front gate of the construction site - with Johnny hot on his tail, throwing every scrap piece of lumber at him that he could pick up - screaming and "wet-back cussing" to the top of his lungs.

The kid never even bothered to come back to pick up his half-day paycheck.



LIB John Brown

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

"Mama Ain't Paid The Bill Yet..."

One other incident in the life of Johnny the short-tempered Mexican caused an emotional eruption not too far removed from the storied overflow of Mount St. Helens.

It all took place one Tuesday evening.

During the summer months, Johnny would moonlight doing side jobs for extra money, most of which he sent home to help feed his extended family back in Brownsville. Sound familiar?

He had been asked by a friend to make some new window screens for a rental house the friend owned. The screen frames were wooden, and in fairly decent shape. All Johnny had to do was re-cover the wood frames with screen material, and then spray paint each refurbished screen.

Piece of cake...In and out in one evening...Easy money.

When Johnny got to the house that afternoon there were children everywhere - from little kids all the way up to teenagers. The long days of summer had given them plenty of light for their play, but the oppressive heat made them as lazy as a bunch of slugs. The mom and dad of the bunch were not home when Johnny drove up that evening.

Johnny tried to talk to some of the youngsters when he first arrived, but to no avail. They weren't talking, they weren't moving, and they sure weren't about to offer to help him with the screens.

No matter...Johnny worked best by himself anyway.

He went about his business collecting the window screens, stripping the old screen off the frames, and meticulously re-screening each one. The sweat poured from his brow. The kids, lying around all over the porch, some in lawn chairs, and some even on the concrete driveway, watched with rapt attention. Johnny the master craftsman had a sizeable audience that day.

When he finished the re-screening, Johnny positioned each screen carefully, leaning them against the large water oaks in the side and back yards. He was now ready to spray paint the screens before returning them to the windows.

Johnny unloaded his brand new Sears Craftsman industrial strength air compressor off his truck, plugging it up to an outlet on the exterior of the house. He then connected the airhoses, filled the paint can with flat black Rustoleum and took his place in front of the first screen.

When Johnny pulled the trigger on the sprayer absolutely nothing happened. Dead silence! The kind of silence that fills a room after a child has said some taboo word or phrase in front of church company. The compressor was dead as a doornail.

Johnny checked to make sure the switch on the side of the compressor was turned on. It was. He tried again...Nothing! His young audience watched in silent assessment.

Johnny went up to the side of the house and made sure that the compressor plug was seated firmly in the electrical outlet. It was. He tried again. Still nothing!

"That guy down there at Sears has sold me a piece of blankety-blank crap!," he said out loud.

The children all heard this evaluation, but still no one said a word.

Johnny then pulled the compressor back over to his truck. "Could be a bad plug," he murmured. Being the well prepared professional that he was, Johnny always kept a spare everything in the tool boxes on his work truck. He rambled around in one of them for the longest, profanity streaming forth in his native tongue.

When he finally located a replacement plug, Johnny pulled out his pocketknife, sliced off the original plug, spent several minutes stripping and bending wire, turning screws, and making sure this new plug was securely attached to the power cable.

When this was done, Johnny dragged the air compressor across the yard and back into place, firmly seated the plug in the outside wall outlet, and again picked up the spray gun. With a mighty grip Johnny fired the now half-dried paint sprayer in the direction of the screens.

When no paint nor noise nor any other thing came forth from the sprayer and compressor, Johnny lost what little "christianity" he had ever possessed. Every profane Hispanic word he had ever heard came spewing forth from his gaping mouth. Wildly stomping the ground and cursing the day he ever agreed to do this blankety-blank job in the first place, Johnny violently kicked the side of the compressor, jerked the air hoses out of their sockets, and sent the paint container flying toward the street. Flat black Rustoleum went everywhere.

Johnny kicked a hole in every single window screen, and then flung each one across the yard like giant frisbees in the wind.

By now the kids were getting into it. They hadn't seen a show like this since the last big neighborhood gang fight that had taken place over a year before.

Johnny picked up his new compressor - wrestling it off the ground - and heaved it against the cab and into the back of his pick-up. He slammed the tailgate with such force that the compressor lurched toward the cab again, this time shattering the sliding rear window.

Each act only served to add another log to this amigo's already raging internal fire.

Finally, when all the toolboxes, hoses, hammers and other tools had been briskly deposited in the back of the truck, Johnny walked past each child who had been witness to this real-life demolition extravaganza.

He stopped and knelt down next to the oldest looking boy - who was still stretched out under one of the large water oaks nearby. "Son, tell your mama," Johnny began, "that I had some trouble with some of my tools. I can't get my sorry, dad-gum (Johnny was slowly and carefully cleaning up each word as he went) air compressor to work"..."Tell your folks..."

Before Johnny could complete his thought, the boy looked him straight in the eye and said incredulously: "Mama ain't paid the bill yet!"

"WHAT did you say?," Johnny asked - with eyes blaring as he raised quickly up off his haunches into an exaggeratedly erect posture. The boy repeated, "You know - da' power...Mama ain't paid the bill yet!...She said they was supposen to come out and cut it all off 'til she go down to the power company and pay it...I guess she didn't and they did!"

The next morning's headlines read: "Hispanic Handyman Charged With Mass Murder On Local Family Jobsite!"



LIB John Brown

Monday, May 02, 2005

"If You Say I Say, I Say You Say"

Nora Early (we called her "Aint Nore") was a tiny, little Alabama woman who spent her life married to the coal mines.

Her husband Walter died in his fifties from black lung. He had spent his life working in the mines throughout northwest Alabama, with an oocasional foray into saw milling when mining was slow. Plus, Aint Nore's only child, J.W., also worked the mines throughout much of his life.

Aint Nore had rough, leathery skin. She cooked and heated with coal all of her life, and spent countless hours out in the sun picking cotton and working in the fields. No amount of Oil of Olay (or "Oil of Old Lady" as the little boy called it in the old joke) could have restored her appearance. The only precaution against the blazing hot sun she really ever took was to wear a bonnet when she went outdoors. When you saw her coming from a distance, or passed from the road while she was bent over in a field picking peas, that bonnet told you that it was Aint Nore.

This wiry little woman could have outworked a whole truckload of Mexicans in today's screwy blue collar world.

Well into her seventies she walked daily from one end of her local mining and farming community in northwest Alabama to the other. She maintained sizeable gardens in at least two different fields situated over a mile apart from each other.

After uncle Walter died, Aint Nore's small TCI spousal mining pension and monthly social security check were all that kept her from becoming destitute. She kept the two gardens in order to have fresh vegetables to eat, but also to have something to "peddle" in a little roadside stand she built with her own hands out in front of her small home. The extra money, "...helped keep the wolf away from the door," she said.

Through this sort of hard work, and with more than a few blessings from above, Aint Nore survived. The cast members on these modern so-called reality/"survivor" shows could have learned more than a thing or two from Aint Nore.

The gardens and the walking were not only for bodily exercise and nutrition's sake, however. There was an additonal factor that was really the driving force behind such a work ethic.


The family often said that gossip was Aint Nore's claim to fame. But, in reality it was much more than that.

Gossip was Aint Nore's life!!

"Did yuns h'year?," was her patented way of introducing the latest headlining story. "I h'yeard yesterdee," was also a popular lead in for one of these priceless gems of hearsay. When Aint Nore began a conversation this way, you knew something good was coming.

In her community everyone knew that if you wanted something spread, Aint Nore was your girl. She knew more about any and everybody in the surrounding countryside than Equifax knows about you and me today.

On her daily treks to those two gardens she would stop to "rest a spell" at every house along the way. While there she would always accept a cool drink of well water, pick up a tidbit of "news," and drop off the ones she had collected at her previous stops. On her way back she would make sure to catch any of the places where folks hadn't been home during her morning round.

Aint Nore could have easily been a successful operative for the CIA. She could have found Bin Laden - within days. Not only could she have found him, she could have told you what he had been eating for breakfast in his cave every morning.

Some years after uncle Walter's death, Aint Nore's house burned to the ground one chilly fall night. A spark from the coal stove landed on some old newspaper she kept nearby as kindling. Like many coal mining families, and widows in particular, Aint Nore didn't have a dime of insurance. Her loss was total. Literally all that she salvaged were the clothes she escaped the burning house with.

Luckily, her sister, Aint Shug, lived nearby and was also a widow. Aint Nore moved in almost immediately.

They were a pair made in heaven.

Aint Shug stayed in the house cooking and listening to the party line telephone. Aint Nore stayed in the garden or out on the road transporting the daily news that Aint Shug had heard while listening to other people's conversations on the party line telephone.

Neither UPI nor CNN could have done it any better.

These two became as inseparable as Forrest and Jenny - just like peas and carrots.

When friends or relatives would visit Aint Shug and Aint Nore, one would cook while the other would share all the latest community tattlings. Due to Aint Shug's advanced age and poor eyesight the cooking was usually mediocre. But, the gossip always sizzled.

Billy Jorman, the Jinrites, old man Monty Quinn, and a host of other coal miners and their families became like stars on the Hollywood walk of fame. Thanks to Aint Nore, these as well as a host of other common folk achieved celebrity status in the hearing of all who visited these two dear sisters. No newspaper nor tabloid gossip columnist could have done a better job of dishing the dirt. In fact, the local community newspaper would often call Aint Nore to find out what was going on, and with whom.

Aint Nore probably never heard of the term, "copyright," in all of her lifetime. But she knew how to protect her sources, and herself. She would always begin a juicy line of gossip with the disclaimer: "Now, if you say I say, I say you say." Which, when translated, meant: "If you tell anybody I said this, I'll tell them that YOU said it first."

This warning evidently sufficed. Not until this writing did anyone ever fully expose Aint Nore as the borderline "double naught spy" (as Jethro Bodine would have put it) that she truly was.

There is an old saying that observes, "There's not much to see in the country or in a small town, but what you hear sure makes up for it."

Given this truth...

And thanks to Nora Early...

At least one five mile stretch of an old mining and farming community in rural northwest Alabama was never lacking for something interesting either to hear or to tell.

This writing - meant as a tribute to her - and in keeping with Aint Nore's fine tradition of copyright integrity...

Must also be guarded with the timeless disclaimer...

"If you say I say, I say you say..."

LIB John Brown

Sunday, May 01, 2005

"Feel Like A Million Dollars, And Ain't Got a Dime"

"Brother Tommy" was a crusty, old, retired mess sergeant. He served just after World War II, and was stationed in Japan for the last part of his hitch.

While in the Army, brother Tommy cooked for enlisted personnel and officers alike. He would often brag about a particular General or other high ranking officer that had requested brother Tommy to personally prepare a special meal or dinner of some kind for them. He always made you feel like a four star General when you ate at his table.

In civilian life, brother Tommy's cooking was horrid. Evidently just as bad as it had been during his Army days. The pie crust was always greasy and heavy with the taste of shortening. The coffee was deep black, and strong as any rot-gut moonshine ever brewed. But, both were always freshly-made and hot when company came by.

After his one true love, Ruth, passed away brother Tommy desperately sought companionship. The good Lord filled his need with church members who loved him more than his own real family did. For the remainder of his days his modest home was host to many. Invitations to visit him were spread every Sunday throughout the congregation - from preacher to parishoner. Sometimes he would cook a multi-course meal, and then call every family in the church directory imploring them to come over and help him, "eat all this food."

Like most older people brother Tommy repeated himself alot. As the brain slowly dies in an old person's skull, their memory grows as faint as the print on the pages of an old book or magazine. Brother Tommy's demeanor made the redundancy of his talk not only bearable but precious.

If a stranger asked brother Tommy how he was feeling, the answer, given with a hearty smile and chuckle, was always the same:

"About half dead, thank you."

One morning the phone rang in a local church's office and the preacher answered. Brother Tommy was calling. He said, "Hello, this James Thompson, (his formal name) and I'm mad as hell!!!" Taken aback, the preacher asked why brother Tommy was angry. He explained that his current preacher was doing some things he didn't think were right and he was, "hunting a church where they don't carry on any foolishness." The preacher assured him that the church brother Tommy was calling was just such a group, and that he and his family would be welcomed there with open arms. Brother Tommy's response: "Preacher, what you have just said is like pie in my mouth! We'll see you Sunday!" He and Ruth placed their membership the very next Sunday with that little congregation and remained faithful members there until their passing.

As a widower, brother Tommy delighted to go out to breakfast on Friday mornings with anyone who would agree to accompany him - but always as his treat. If you insisted on paying, either you didn't get invited back or else there was a stern lecture following the last cup of "joe."

Having grown up during the Great Depression, together with having lived a serviceman's life, brother Tommy had learned to be a good money manager. He could at times be, "tight as the bark on a tree," as my daddy would say. However, though he keenly knew the value of every nickel, to almost everyone he knew brother Tommy was as generous as a sow whose milk had come in. All he really had was money and time. It was his joy to spend both on breakfast for two.

There were countless restaurants in the growing bedroom community where brother Tommy lived. However, to this grizzled old Army cook there was one and only one place that served HIS kind of breakfast - "The Blue Goose."

The Blue Goose was a little hole in the wall restaurant with pine paneling that reeked with the smell of cigarette smoke, uncomfortable slat-bottomed wooden chairs, and large roach bugs that frequently showed up to watch you eat from their perch on the wall next to your table. Everything was tolerable in the BG with the exception of those roaches. Some of them were bigger than the popcorn shrimp served at the Goose every Friday night. You couldn't help but wonder sometimes how many of those critters had actually made it into that platter of shrimp sitting in front of you.

If you complained about the roaches in front of brother Tommy or ever attempted to reach up with your paper napkin and crush one he would scoldingly say, "leave that little fella alone - he's got to eat too!" A holdover practice from his Army days, we all assumed.

The waitresses all loved brother Tommy. When he walked in they showered him with hugs and kisses. He would tell them the same thing every week: "the one with the best kiss gets the biggest tip." Brother Tommy made the rank of, "dirty old man," a very sweet thing indeed.

On "Blue Goose Friday" brother Tommy and his guest for the morning would come in and take a seat, always at the same booth. No one else was ever allowed to be seated in brother Tommy's booth on Friday mornings. Once brother Tommy and his guest were in their seats the waitresses would all scurry around in a desperate race to see who could get coffee to the table first.

Regardless of which waitress was the victor, the greeting was always the same:

"How you doin' this mornin', sweetie?"

Brother Tommy's answer was always the same...

"Feel like a million dollars, and ain't got a dime..."

Those good ladies had become brother Tommy's close friends. They would smile, sometimes repeating the last part of the sentence in unison with him, and then fill his cup to the running over. Whatever brother Tommy ordered, no matter how off the wall it was, the girls at the Goose would just wink, kiss him on the forehead, and hurry off to do his bidding.

If the Blue Goose had a "red carpet" it always got rolled out to brother Tommy and his breakfast companions.

While waiting for the food to come, brother Tommy told and re-told every family and personal story that had ever come to his mind. Some of the one-liners he threw in with these yarns were priceless.

There were stories of his two sons, Bill and David. David was an entertainer in the Tony Orlando theater in Branson, Missouri, and Bill had served in the Marine Corps. There was also his adopted daughter, Carol, who had been a successful nurse and real estate tycoon somewhere in Arkansas.

The gleam in his eye each time he spoke of these things was like that of a little boy telling about his first roller coaster ride.

It might have been because we heard them over and over again, or maybe it was because we all loved this kind old gentleman so much. Either way, brother Tommy's, "Tommy-isms" are still repeated in conversations to this very day whenever his memory wells in our hearts.

Some days may seem like I do not have a dime, but it always feels like a million dollars every time I think of brother Tommy.

May God rest his soul.

LIB John Brown