Friends, heathens, fellow debaucherors (you cotdang right I made that one up), lend me thine ears! It appears we have reached that ever-so-anticlimactic season of the year, the day when we must watch our beloved Crimson Tide pummel into submission some poor upstart also-ran in the gridiron equivalent of a schoolyard bully beat down. Yes, for though we wince as we watch the pounding, we watch each drop of the fist in guilty pleasure, as the boys in crimson make a mockery of some resource-starved lil' brother (not talkin' about Auburn, just to clarify.)
I know I'm taunting the wrath of Our Dark Lord by saying this, as he seemed pretty adamant in his most recent rant about the folly of taking an FCS team too lightly. Though I am admittedly familiar with the notion and intent behind his tirade, I must also admit that I learned something new from his rant, namely that some sick sumbitch somewhere has experimented with measuring the rate of passage of feces through a tin horn, ala ODL's claim that Georgia Southern "ran through their ass like shit through a tin horn. (As an aside...why would someone do that? Why would one ruin a perfectly good tin horn with such an asinine, worthless act of so-called science? Does anyone have a representative example of such a horn, as I don't think I'm familiar with this device. Do they even still, if they ever did, make something known as a tin horn? Who is the leading tin horn manufacturer of the last decade? But I digress...) While I'm not sure I follow the metaphor, the main takeaway was that particular FCS offense put up 300 yards of offense on a National Championship Bama defense loaded with future NFL players.
Duly noted, Coach, all shit horns aside.
But honestly, does anyone really think Bama has any chance, short of nuclear (nu-cular for you scholars) war or meteorite strike, of losing this game? Sure they could look rough. But I'm fairly confident in saying this will be a glorified scrimmage.
It's not sporting, it's not exciting, it's not anything but an excuse to watch football and relax with the outcome of the game a foregone conclusion. Well, it's also an excuse for an underprivileged football program to get a rather hefty on the dime of the University of Alabama athletic program...but that's neither here nor there. For our purposes, we need only know that an oblong ball will be kicked, young men will hurl themselves at one another with reckless abandon, and the Tide has a chance to put another notch in the ole win column.
Due to these humble requirements of a humble opponent, we are compelled...nay, obligated...to submit a sacrifice at the throne of Football Loki, regardless of the unfitness of the coming opponent. Why, you may ask? Because that is what is done in these here parts of God's Green, and we don't want to forego the favor of the patron Saint of Football Success at this hard-earned point of the season's campaign.
Now I, nor Loki, expect the type of Hoodoo this week that will fill this ledger during the following week. After all, I hope you've been saving your heaviest Hoodoo for the Tide's annual match-up with the Chicken Molesters of them thar' Plains of Alabama. So, while Hoodoo of a lesser degree is gladly accepted this week, remember that next week, the expectations are high, indeed.
That said, I decided to take you folks on a brief (I know, right?) walk back into the younger years of my childhood, a time when a boy (maybe a boy named OWB) was not fully concerned with chasing skirts nor pleasures of the carnal sort. No, though those pursuits were just beyond the horizon of his life at the age of 13, dawning like an Easter morning sunrise, your narrator was still a boy of the South, a boy who enjoyed runnin' through the woods like a scalded hare, climbin' trees like squirrel-critter and swimmin' in any body of water cleaner than he was. I was just about to make that leap into manhood, I was starting to feel all confused in my groinal area whenever in close proximity to women folk. But still had enough young'un in me to generally prefer the company of my pellet rifle or fishin' pole to any ole girl-type who may come skulking around seeking my nubile favor.
Many of these heretofore-mentioned days were spent in the woods around my childhood home in a wide expanse of dug-over, multi-colored clay cliffs and pine stands we called "The Gullies." You see, when the Alabama Department of Transportation was constructing the nearby stretch of Hwy. 98 (known to locals as Bloody 98 for obvious reasons), it seems they dug a prodigious amount of fill dirt from the timberland in question. The elevation of the area dropped a hundred feet from the back of my neighborhood to the bottom of this dug-out area, and over time and thousands of deluging thunderheads (Mobile is not known as the nation's wettest city for nothin'), rivulets of fast-running stormwater had carved the red clay into deep ravines and canyons that came to a head in a stream that slushed feebly through the bottomland.
This place held immense wonder for me as a child, partially because I had been admonished to avoid it at all costs, and as we all well-know (at least those of us who have, like, lived), it is the forbidden fruit which is often the sweetest and most alluring. But the place was also magical because it offered we dwellers of the Coastal Plain some semblance of elevation, a geographical feature for which we Mobilians were starved.
We'd take to the Gullies and run, jump, climb, hike, leap, ford, dig and ramble, spending an entire day wrapped in its gritty bosom. There were plenty enough stands of slash pine dotting the sandy-clay expanse of the Tatooine-ish wasteland, little islands of shade an cool into which one could flee in the heat of the day's activities. It was great, a wild frontier in our own backyards that gave us a glimpse of what hill-folk must have lived like up the country.
On this particular day, my brother B-Rad and I had elected to set out for the Gullies, as there was nothing of note going on down in the 'hood, the weather was the kind of nice fall day we enjoy infrequently in the autumn (this week, for example, Mobile's temperatures have hovered in the mid- to upper-80s). We grabbed our backpacks, put in a few boo-loney sandwiches (that's what kinda sammitches ghosts eat...boo-loney, get it? No?) and walked up through our neighborhood to the Gullies on the other side of the campus of the neighborhood middle school (Scarborough for you Mobile-types).
On the way, we picked up quite an entourage. After all, when two young fellers set off on a hike with backpacks full of sammitches, they tend to draw a crowd...especially if there's ghetto Kool-Aid involved. (For the non-hood-bred among you, allow me to explain...you see, ghetto Kool-Aid is made from the same packets of powder as your regular ole white-folk Kool-Aid. Main difference is that however much sugar the Kool-Aid packet tells you to add, you go 'head on and double ‘at.) By the time we reached our destination, we had picked up one of our Catholic runnin' buddies Jokalet, the fat kid on the corner Jason (you know he was only there for the sammitches and Kool-Aid), and a kid who was new to our neighborhood, a Monroe, LA transplant who I'm just gonna call Jackalope for the time being.
Now Jackalope, he was a different kinda cat, but he fully understood the dynamic of the new kid in any neighborhood. You've probably all seen it happen: a new kid comes to school, and if he plays his cards right, he parlays the whole "air of mystery" thing into instant popularity. A new kid is unencumbered by the albatross of shared common history, you see...he is a man freed from his own unsavory doings of youth. For example, a kid who crapped his pants in fourth grade may never live that down, totin' that "Doo-Doo Brown" nickname and damning shared memory through his high school graduation, at which some class clown ne'er-do-well holds up a sheet painted with the uncomplimentary pseudonym during commencement exercises for all the world to see. Now instead, say after said unfortunate incident occurs, Doo-Doo changes schools, moves to another city...well now you see the possibilities that open up for the once-besmirched young fellow. He can easily shed that nickname and all its dirty baggage the way a cicada sloughs off its gross chitin shell on the sides of pine trees in the summer.
At any rate, Jackalope had done well to work the mystery angle, and if he was indeed a closeted pants-crapper or locker-room meat-slinger (we had one of those at my high school...story for another time) in his former life, we'd never have known it. He instantly plugged himself into the "in" crowd, claiming to have been the second cousin of Kip Winger (if you don't know, you better Google that shit, I ain't got time to raise y'all), earning (nay, taking) the starting quarterback role at the middle school, and benefitting from the cache' conveyed upon him by the fact his mama dropped him off in a sunshine yella Jaguar XJS every morning. The girls were instantly crazy for Jackalope, the guys thought he was cool as hell, and any perceived affiliation with his person rubbed off on us homeboys in the form of improved street cred with the ladies and fellers alike.
As we walked by Jackalope's grandmama's house, which was across the street from the middle school, he saw us and yelled out.
"Hey guys, whatch'all up to?" he said after hailing us.
"Aw nothin' much, man, just headin' out into the Gullies, gonna do a little climbin', shoot a few birds, that kinda thing."
"Man, that sounds cool...say, you fellas don't mind if I tag along, do ya?"
Man, we most certainly did not mind. Matter of fact, I wished I had my mama's Polaroid camera to take a picture for proof of sharing an incursion with the coolest cat in school, a piece of photographic evidence that would come in handy the next Monday at school. But alas, this being a time before the prevalence of cell phone-based cameras (or cell phones, for that matter), I could not avail myself of technology I did not possess. I'd have to settle for the stories we could churn out, and at least there were a few of us to act as mutual witnesses.
When Jokalet's sister (one of three) saw that we had a cool companion joining us, she came squealin' down the road in our direction. I knew what she wanted, as she wanted to join in our little reverie for some certainly-lame chickish purposes.
"Good God, get rid of ‘er, Jokalet. We can't have her taggin' along." She was a year younger than me, a year older than Jokalet. She pulled him aside, and after some amount of arm-twisting that I'm certain had something to do with telling his mother that he had defied her orders to stay the hell away from those Gullies (and more importantly, OWB and his heathen brother), he relented.
"OWB, if she cain't go, I'm not gonna be able to go...please, cain't she just go with us? She'll be quiet and not bother us..."
Against my better judgement, I allowed her to participate in our junket. After all, though I wasn't full-blown girl crazy, I had the pre-teen inclinations that lead a boy to wonder why he has changed enough to savor the company of girls rather than being repelled by them. And having said inclinations and access to Jokalet's sister Garnet through my affiliation with him, she was as ripe an apple as I had growing on my tree of burgeoning prospects (though I really wouldn't have known what to do with her if I had 'er). Plus, I figured Jackalope didn't want anything to do with her, so maybe I'd have a chance to make headway in getting a little closer to her...for whatever reason.
Boy, was I wrong. Matter of fact, me and Jokalet were both wrong. That damn Garnet rattled her trap from the moment we consented to her presence, chattering on about this and that, following ole Jackalope around like a lost puppydog. She asked him his favorite band, giggled and AHHHH'd at his Winger story, asked him his favorite video game, his favorite color, his favorite flavor of ice cream, his favorite color (again...because it was so incredibly exhilarating the first time around). After about three-quarters of an hour of that foolishness, I was ‘bout ready to brain the both of them and bury them out in the wilderness sands of the Gullies.
Not to mention, Jackalope was actually paying more attention to her than us fellas. This wasn't how this whole day was ‘sposed to go...no sir. It was ‘sposed to be male-bondin' time, camaraderie-time, huntin' time, killin' time, grrr-grr-GRRR and all that stuff. But couldn't any of us get a word in edgewise betwixt Garnet's barrage of vacuous questions, which by this time had run its course to the point of asking what song was his favorite one to couples-skate to at the skating rink. Gag and vomit. I had heard ‘bout damn enough.
Plus, my still-as-of-yet-understood feelin's were beginning to get hurt. After all, only reason I let Garnet tag along was because I thought I could take the opportunity to show off my manly frontier ninja skills. Boy did that one blow up right in me damn ole face. She hadn't seen ninja skill one, so far up Jackalope's posterior had she inserted her inquisitive nature.
I had to do something to wrest some of the attention back, to shine that spotlight of favor on ya boy. Not only to win the heart of Garnet (as if I really wanted to, I mean, bein' as how I wasn't sure WHY I kinda liked her or wanted her to like me), but to impress uber-cool Jackalope-James Dean over there. I had envisioned him at school the next week, regaling the popular kids with tales of my cliff-hangin' ninjitsu and dead-eye dove-droppin'. Well, this trip had taken quite the different tack, and if I was going to steer it back onto course, I had better do something right soon.
"Hey Jackalope, I got a question for ya now," I began. "You like to climb trees? Cuz if you do, I know the toughest tree to climb in all of Alabama, pretty sure not even a super-ninja could climb it without some ropes and shit."
He laughed a little, not sure if I was joking. "Climb trees? Well, I guess I liked to do that when I was, like, seven or somethin'" Garnet cackled; I flushed red with embarrassment, though I don't think Jackalope was being a total asshole, regardless of the fact that he may have been being a total asshole.
"Well, I mean, sometimes you have to be able to climb trees, and Coach Teel-hard, he had told us in PE that the way to get them ripped, monster triceps like Bullet Bob Armstrong was by climbin' trees...keeps a man in shape, s'what Teel-hard said. And I know he played for Auburn and all, but still, sometimes he says stuff that is, you know...right."
"Maybe OWB, I don't know...why'ont'cha show us how you can climb this here tree you talkin' ‘bout."
Hellz yes, I had been successful in putting myself back into the limelight. I'd sure as hell show them that tree, and I'd show ‘em how I could climb it like a danged ole grizzly bear. I pointed the way to a stand of trees half a mile across the sandy bottom, and we started out that way, Garnet still chirping on about Jackalope's favorite brand of jeans or some such shit ("I like Jordache but my sister, she likes Liz Claiborne, and on boys she likes Levi's but I like it when guys wear them tight Wranglers..." and on and on and on.)
We arrived at the aforementioned tree, and it stood there like a monolith, in a clearing in the midst of a stand of pines. It was an unusually large mimosa tree that shot three trunks skyward at slightly acute angles from one another, a trident of silverish wood that rose, nearly limbless, some 50 feet into the air. We called it the Three Sisters, because, you know, there were like three trunks. (Sometimes obvious shit is obvious, y'all...everythang ain't some cotdang metaphor, jeez.)
"There she is, the Three Sisters...you wanna give ‘er a climb, Jackalope?"
"Nah, I'm wearin' my good jeans. I wanna see you do it though."
"Touche', monsieur. I accept your challenge," I thought to myself. "Surely, he and Garnet will be amazed by my skill, endurance and agility. This is a tale sure to be recounted for generations." I really did think that kinda shit in my head when I was a kid, y'all. I told y'all, I read an awful lot, and that happened to be right square up in the middle of my Ivanhoe and King Arthur's Court-typa phase.
I bowed up on that slick-skinned trunk of mimosa wood like a chimp. There weren't but about three or four limbs from the ground to the crown to use as waypoints until one reached the top of the tree, where a tuft of lithe branches sprawled out in numerous directions, limbs that in the summer's peak were loaded with the fuzzy flamingo-pink feather-duster blooms that are the trademark of the species (and the namesake of the drink, for the alcoholics amongst you. I know half'a you lush sumbitches were thinkin' "A MIMOSA TREE? DID HE SAY A MIMOSA TREE? GRAB YOUR CHAMPAGNE FLUTE, ESTHER, WE GOTTA FIND THIS TREE!" Feel pretty stupid now, dont'cha?).
I started shimmy-shakin' my way up the tree, my feet locked in on that trunk at an oblique angle, my monkey-hands a'grippin' that wood. When I was about three feet below the first branch waypoint, which was at least 20-some-odd feet off the ground, I began to feel the burn of pain in my hands.
"Com'on OWB, don't quit now," I implored myself. I just had to get to the top of that tree, arthritis or not. I dug deep, refocused, and covered the remaining ground to that bottom branch, where I slung myself onto the seat formed in the Y of the limb and trunk. I looked down upon my fellow travelers.
"Hoooo, see that? ‘At's a tough climb, don't none'a y'all wanna try?" I had hoped someone would take me up on it, give me a few minutes with the attention off of me to get my wind back and rest before climbing any higher. But alas, my runnin' buddies were cowards, and I was the only one brave enough to prove himself to the Three Sisters.
"Com'on, hurry up if you're gonna do it!" yelled Jokalet. "It's gettin' late, Mama cain't know I'm down here."
At his urging, I started my second ascent. Not long after, I could feel the burning again, only this time, I had the added quivering of my groin muscles, which had been bearing a good bit of the workload in haulin' my hefty ass up that there tree-stalk.
"Oh Lord, I don't know if I can do this," I thought. I was still five feet from the next limb, and a good twelve feet from the top. This task was beginning to look damn near impossible, something I would have known had I ever actually attempted this feat before shooting off my damn fool mouth.
I kept pluggin' though, bein' an Irish-blooded Southerner (which gives you double-bonus points in the Hard-Headedness Scale of Measurement. I always have been fond of the lost cause (my hatred of all things Auburn not withstanding.) My rate of ascent had slowed to a sloth's pace, and I was sweatin' like a two-dollar whore in church, even in the cool fall temps. But slow and steady wins the race, or so I told myself. Apparently neither Slow nor Steady fell out of a tree out of pure-dee exhaustion before.
I made it to the second waypoint and took a prolonged breather until I was urged by my fellow travelers to get the hell in gear.
"Uh, you don't have to finish OWB, we really need to get going. I have a date tonight, so..." said Jackalope. Of course he did. This enflamed me more, and I was determined to finish what I had started.
"No..GASP...I...GASP...I'm good...GASP...gonna finish...GASP....ninja...GASP..." I was not old enough to know what the heck a coronary was, but I heard my granddaddy talk about having one and it didn't seem like a good thing. I'm quite sure that I was near about close to becoming the youngest coronary sufferer in history, though I have not thoroughly researched the topic out of, well, total apathy.
I was seven feet from the top, and it wasn't getting any earlier. I started up the final ascent like cotdang Edmund Hillary. I would have made it too, if it hadn't been for my damn groin muscles utterly collapsing beneath my lummoxy weight.
I felt myself losing my grip, but I couldn't let go. I was oh-so-close to reaching that top limb, extending my fingers in a stretch like the figures in the Sistine Chapel, reaching ephemerally for the divine...but grasping, instead, the utterly ridiculous.
My muscles were completely fatigued, and I began to slip. Neither my hands nor my legs were up to the task of going any further, and in fact, neither seemed willing to even allow me to hold my ground. I started sliding down that unfurrowed, silver-slick bark as if it was greased with rendered fat-back: slowly at first, but gaining momentum, to my horror, as I slid further. I was unable to stop myself, and I was sliding down this 50 foot tree in the fashion of a fireman sliding down the pole in a firehouse. I could feel the heat from the friction of my skin grinding at speed down the tree trunk, leaving rug-burn type wounds on my forearms and the inside of my legs.
Though it was horrifying, after a moment, I settled down when I realized that I was in luck, to a degree. Worst case scenario, I could just ride the tree down, sliding all the way to the bottom at reduced speed as though I planned it rather than plummeting all that way to the ground like a dumbass.
What I had not remembered was that one lowest branch that jutted out from the trunk below, the only thing between me and a grace-saving smooth-slide to the ground. I remembered it just in time to feel it rack me in my still-developing private parts with diamond-shattering force. It was at this time that I also became aware of another fact I had missed during my arduous climb up, namely that the limb was near-about dry-rotted, and under the force of my dropping ass, it snapped like a match-stick. From that height of about 20 feet up, after smashing my genitals unceremoniously like a Little Debbie cake left in a back pocket, the limb snapped and I fell for what seemed like an inordinate amount of time before crashing to the ground, flat on my back, the broken off limb still beneath me, snapped between my weight and the ground.
I wanted to scream, I honestly did, no matter who was there to witness this spectacle. But I couldn't. It was if the good ole Angel of Death had snatched the life clean out of me, leaving me still trapped in the husk of my humanity before taking me on to the next plane.
"Am I dead?" I thought. I could see my "friends" clamoring over to me. I could see the looks of concern. I could tell they too were uncertain of my continued existence in this mortal coil.
Then it happened...whatever had knocked the breath out of me reinserted it rather suddenly, the result being the loudest, most blood-curdling scream likely ever heard in those parts outside of some ancient Indian-scalpin' or other such dastardly act. The sound was Banshee-like, high-pitched and girlish: it echoed off of the high clay banks, glanced about off of the sun-hardened sand flats, ripped through the isolated stands of pine trees. It lasted for a good minute or so before I finally stopped to take a second breath....and then I screamed again, another good minute of pure, unadulterated glass-shattering wailin' that would have made Black Canary proud.
I had still not moved, wasn't convinced that the snap I felt beneath me when I hit the ground had not been my spine.
"I can't feel my legs, I CAN'T FEEL MY LEGS! I FELT SOMETHIN' CRACK!" I was in pure panic mode. Not to mention, the feelin' of dull shock that was creeping from my nether regions into the pit of my stomach (you fellas know what I mean) resonated in soul-crushing pain, as I'd never been truly racked like that before.
B-Rad was concerned, to say the least. "Man, do I need to go get mom?"
"NOnononoNONO, let's not get crazy..." The realization that I would surely be up the creek without a back brace should Momz find out leapt to my consciousness. I decided then that I could, in fact, feel my legs. I managed to gingerly roll myself onto my side, where it was discovered that it was not my back that had cracked, but rather the remains of the limb that had conspired against my nutsack just prior to the point of my separation from the tree.
"Well, I guess I'm alright then." Jokalet was the first to crack a giggle, then Jackalope, then of course Garnet followed suit. Everyone broke into a hearty laugh, but aside from my continued presence among the ambulatory, I was none too pleased about this development.
"Now y'all can't tell anyone about this, please." I knew that this event was unlikely to remain a secret, but I appealed to my friendships with these people I considered confidants to protect my dignity. Big mistake...I shoulda threatened them with death or somethin'.
Flash-forward to Monday morning. I barely made it through the door before I was showered with cackles and grins half-hidden behind cupped hands. The story made the rounds at Scarborough Middle like a California wildfire driven by the Santa Ana gusts. At lunch, I was privy to Jackalope's personal retelling of the story to a large group of kids at the "Cool" table, complete with gestures and an overly-detailed, unflatteringly hyperbolic depiction (for my taste) of my coin-purse-related discomfort. He was a hit, a real riot. Everybody loved Jackalope more than they had before, Garnet standing there a laughin' and a noddin' along in affirmation of his wildly exaggerated (though not wholly exaggerated) tale of my tomfoolery and ultimate fall (literally) from grace.
I endured a week or so of queries about whether I needed an ice bucket to sit in, or whether I wouldn't mind helping an old lady get her cat down from the tree top. Haha. Very funny. Laugh it up.
I guess it was still better than doing a number-two in public, or pullin' my pud in the gym locker room. Worst name I was called as a result was "Tarzan," which is a damn sight more endearing than "Doo-Doo Brown" or "Captain Wank." In the grand scheme of things, being the dullard who fell out of a tree wasn't so bad after all.
I offer this humble tale of mild shame to Football Loki in exchange for one, injury-free, depth-proving, victorious performance for my beloved Crimson Tide. Please and thank you.