Boredom In Alabama
Carl sometimes hung out with me when he was bored. He was bored often because there really wasn’t much going on in Madison County. And he didn’t have a car. We smoked cigarettes and drank beer and listened to Otis Redding. One night late, when it was raining hard, Carl, who was, of course, bored, asked me if I’d like to go out to a whiskey house and have some wine. We’d sure enough get fucked up. He was sure I hadn’t been to this particular one, it was way out on the Triana Road, but it was a good one. It had wine and music and women and gambling. And reefer. It was wild, meaning it might be a little rough, but, hey, I’d be with him. This meant that he would not let me get shot or cut or beaten to a pulp. And could I give DayDeen a ride too?
Maybe I could be telling this story in Southern Dialect, but I’m not going to. That seems to create more distractions and arguments than it’s worth. Yes, John Kennedy Toole did that to Burma Jones in A Confederacy Of Dunces, and he was very good at it, I guess, but that was written in 1969, and well, it was probably offensive even then. Not that I necessarily mind offensive. And it made it hard to read. So, no, I’m not going to try to transliterate the North Alabama mumble (1965 version). You just imagine that when the characters speak that’s their primary language and you can’t really understand them, so you frequently respond with “What?” Or “Excuse me?” Or ”Hunh?”
There’s this other, small problem. The two characters’ names. One’s name is Carl, though everybody says it as if it were “coral.” The other’s, DayDeen. He was baptized David Dean. And DayDeen has a nickname, too. He doesn’t need one, but he has one. It is Peelicker, a reference to how crazy and daring he is. This name is often shortened to “Pete.” Anyway, Carl and DayDeen became friends of mine.
I liked Pete. Pete was bad, too, but in a different way. He was crazier. He would listen to the preaching on the radio on a Sunday night. And drink wine. If the preaching wasn’t working for him, he’d change the station. I am not sure what his criteria were. Maybe it was how melodious and exciting the preaching was, as if it were a jazz saxophone solo. The Stevenson Brothers and even Turkey, who was a religious zealot, argued with him about the preaching, but that’s another story.
So at about midnight, Carl and Pete and I got in the old Ford and headed down the road to the whiskey house. It was still raining hard. Frogs were jumping all over the road. Pete insisted that we flash our bright lights so rabbits would run into the road. He wanted to run them over and then eat them. I blinked the lights, but I wouldn’t hit the rabbits. I told him we were going to get drunk and we wouldn’t be able to clean and cook them so it would be a waste.
When we arrived, cars were parked all up and down the edges of the road next to the cotton field. The whiskey house was an ugly, one story cinder block building with a tin roof and bright lights and open doors and windows and lots of people standing under the eaves. You could hear the jukebox thumping, and the sounds of the party: talking and laughing and shouting. It was loud. The jukebox vibrated the building. People were clustered under the eaves, drinking and smoking, and talking and watching the rain.
Carl walked up to the door first. This tended to make people quiet. They knew him. Maybe they didn’t want any trouble, but I doubt it. I followed him. This struck people dumb. What was a skinny white guy with wire rim glasses doing in this particular joint with Carl and DayDeen? Who brought him here? Carl, of course, said nothing. He liked doing the stare. Nobody is going to question Carl. Carl also enjoys giving people that look. The look established, just in case anyone forgot, that he was still as bad as ever, and don’t even ask. About anything. Pete got out of the rain and said as he entered the door, “Well, go on, he’s ok.” This apparently was enough for the assembled multitudes, and the party sputtered back to life.
Carl and I pooled our funds, $2, for two bottles of Wild Russian Vanya, which was kept in a freezer shaped like a coffin. It had to be cold because when it wasn’t it was not potable, it tasted like sweet cough syrup and kerosene. Carl and I sat down on a bench next to the dance floor to get drunk. And to see whether there was anything exciting going on. About one pleasant inch into my bottle, and about 6 inches into Carl’s, a fight broke out of the dance floor. “Are you looking at my woman?” said a man rhetorically as he pushed a larger, stronger man. “And what if I am, motherfucker?” At this the pusher reached into his pants and pulled out a small, shiny gun, waved it around, and pointed it directly in the face of the other guy. “I’m going to shoot the shit out of you,” he reported.
As the gun came out, everybody on the dance floor saw it and immediately scrambled for the doors and windows. The music played on, but the place was a riot of drunk people falling down and pushing into each other and cursing and trying to escape. Unsurprisingly, nobody wanted to get shot. And apparently nobody thought the guy with the gun was much of a marksman. Or maybe they were just concerned about a ricochet in the block building. While the floor emptied, Carl raised his left arm and held it tight against my chest. I couldn’t get up, my back was pinned against the wall. I couldn’t leave. To the man with the pistol, Carl said, “Man, I am not getting up. I am not moving. If you shoot that thing in here and it hits me or gets blood on me, you are one dead motherfucker. I promise.” From the safety of outside, you could hear DayDeen speak, “Man, Carl you are so bad. You better not shoot in there. Carl will definitely kill your ass. For sure. You are going to be one sorry, dead motherfucker if you tangle with Carl.”
At this Mr. Pistol apparently reached an apex of prudence, sobriety and planning. He slowly put the pistol back in his pocket, reared back, and delivered an extremely powerful right hook to the jaw of his adversary. The guy didn’t see it coming. At all. The fist hit him squarely in the middle of his jaw. Smack. He collapsed, hit the floor like a sack of bricks, and lay there motionless, oozing blood. Mr. Pistol gave him a nice kick in the ribs for good measure, turned, and walked slowly out the door cursing all those who would trifle with him and eyeball the person he referred to as his woman.
At this, Carl said, “Well, let’s get out of here in case the cops come. We don’t want to be here.”
On the rainy, two lane drive back to my house, Daydeen again insisted that I flash the lights to make the rabbits run into the road. And Carl said he wanted me to drop him off at the house. Said he, “I’m fixing to go to Detroit. This town is boring.”