Good Lord, y'all...can you believe it's really this time of the year again?
Seems like just yesterday we were all waiting on pins and needles for the kickoff that just couldn't come fast enough. And now...now here we are, the last week of the regular season, the week when our beloved Crimson Tide faces off against those god-awful, sister-baitin', chicken-molestin' toothless trogs from Lee County.
My, how time flies.
In retrospect, it doesn't seem like it's been an entire cycle of the calendar since the last time the Tide met up with the Cow-Philanderers of the Plains, that hyper-tense shootout in which Blake Sims and Amari Cooper forever wrote their names in crimson flame in the ledger of Alabama history. Down late, the Tide recovered and put the Boogs in their place, rightfully, as no better than the second-rated team in this, the Great State.
Now, I don't look forward to this week, for myriad reasons. I dislike the din of battle in my latter years, and by that I mean the chittering harpy-like whine and trash-talking that originates in Lee County and winds its way in orange-and-blue peals across the landscape of Alabama, verbal effluent that flows from the putrid broken-sewer lines of countless Auburnite maws. So full of delusion are these poor cult-members that they have falsely elevated themselves to be on par, in their eyes, with the Capstone of education in this state, especially on the gridiron. Sure, if you want agricultural book-learnin', why, the Barn is the place to be. If you want to be an architect, well, bless your soul but you probably ought to spend four years in the supposed "Loveliest Village..." If you are into all things bovine, then by all means friend, send in your application to Alabama Polytechnic Institute today!
While begrudgingly accepting the Auburnite as "lil' brother" (though I'd gleefully abandon any misconceptions of shared genetic lineage), we must also endure this, our yearly penance for being of stellar constitution and upbringing. After all, any one of us could have been born a Barner, and we should wake each day thanking the Sweet Almighty that he thought enough of us to make us fans of the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Hell, I'd just as soon the Tide wasn't compelled to play the chicken-pluckers each year. I was overjoyed in the previous era of SEC expansion that the toothless wonders would potentially be joining the SEC East (which would be oddly appropriate given the number of times I've used the term "pallet-fire" to describe both of the aforementioned subjects.)
So though I don't consider the Fightin' Chicken-Chokers a true rival on par with the one the Tide shares with Tennessee (or even LSU, in the modern epoch), this is one of those games that is, indeed, painful to lose. There's really nothing to gain from it, as Alabama rarely earns prestige from beating up on ‘lil bro. The Auburnite have everything to gain, as knocking off Bama is cause for decades of celebration in their toilet-paper strewn environs (I give you the Kick-Six as Exhibit A...they're still talkin' about that one, folks).
Therefore, despite the apparent disparity in talent and rankings between the two teams, Hoodoo is demanded by Football Loki, and it is Hoodoo we must willingly provide. Being well-trained in these here Hoodoo Dark Arts, I am going to drop a tale on y'all that should do the trick for bringing Football Loki to bear for the Tide this weekend. For as we all know, The Auburnite coven possesses some unknown, unnamed form of luckeration, or whatever you want to call it...the kind of thing that leads to the 2010 season, or last minute field goals that inexplicably result in winning touchdowns. Therefore, I give you people this here Hoodoo reckoning.
This tale goes back to my days of carefree roaming in the neighborhood in which I grew up, a section of Mobile that bordered on the edge of the berg of Prichard and was west of I-65 along Hwy. 98. It was a mixed neighborhood: working class, mostly cracker and MOWA (that's a word used to describe the MOWA band of Choctaw Indians and their descendants, known in the somewhat pejorative terminology as "cajans.") As time wore on and the epoch of segregation fell into the winds of the past like crypt dust, the neighborhood grew even more diverse racially, though the same socio-economic strictures remained in place. Regardless of color, the people of the Beau were working class, folks who bruised their knuckles, pounded the pavement and greased their fingers each day in pursuit of the often-desired, rarely-reached American Dream.
While there were the stalwarts of the neighborhood, families who had been there for as long as anyone could remember, there were occasionally injections of fresh personnel into the two-bedroom, one-bath landscape. Sometimes, these newcomers would have kids, and the neighborhood urchins (myself among them) would embrace them, luring them into street-field football games, bamboo-stick combat and bike races around the block. Other times, the newcomers were as barren as the Gobi...no kids, no fun, and of little consequence to us young'uns.
Such was the case when the old woman who lived next to my back fence neighbor passed away, leaving her planked home sitting empty where previously it had been abuzz with grandchildren and cats of all sizes and colors. Mrs. Scoggins kept a meager home, hadn't been painted likely since before I had been born, always a blue-gray flaking scab of mid-century cottage-hood rotting away in the Gulf Coast humidity. The one thing about her home that always attracted us as children had been the rows upon rows of daisies she planted in her back acre-and-a-half: a wave of white-petaled Shastas and golden Brown-Eyed Susans that sprung forth each year as the spring began its heated ascent into the early summer. She'd let us come hop the fence and cut flowers for our mothers, and there's no doubt that due to her generosity, almost every house on that end of the neighborhood had vases full of prettiness for weeks, along with the accompanying, appreciative mothers.
But when Mrs. Scoggins passed, we weren't really sure what would happen with her old place. I had shared words about it with Jack Cannon, my neighbor over the back fence, and he told me he thought it was going to be sold outright, as none of her children had wanted the hassle of making the needed renovations.
"Naw, place is run down, she ain't done nothin' with it since her husband died," Mr. Cannon had told me. If anybody on that street knew what would happen with the house, it was Jack Cannon. He was like a cotdang self-contained domestic espionage unit, made it his business to talk to anybody he saw anytime anywhere, askin' all kinds of inappropriate questions that were really none of his business.
"Huh, that's a shame," I said.
"Yeah, I seen ‘er son Benny over ‘ere last week, said they's gonna go ahead and sell it, had no use for it, too much work need to be put in it. I just hope the right kinda people move in it, ‘f you know what I mean."
I most certainly knew what he meant, whether or not I agreed with it. Mr. Cannon was an unabashed racist in the Bull Connor framing of the term, a rabid hater of anything that wasn't white in nature. He didn't like soul music, once tellin' my mama, who was playing Al Green on the boombox while she gardened, "that shit sounds like somebody flushin' a clogged toilet." He didn't like soul food, because "they take and ruin a perfectly good pot'a greens with all that mess in it."
Me, I was raised as a product of the New South, reared by a liberal-minded mother with a sense of inclusiveness that she bred right into me from the get-go. Though I didn't like Mr. Cannon's inference, I understood his meaning: he hoped that someone white would move into the house next door to him, plain and simple.
I remember when a black family came calling, and the fuss he made when they didn't call him, "Sir." Not that they needed to, but in their defense, he saw them in the yard looking at the house with the sale sign in front and told them, "Now you best ta get outta here ‘fore I call the law, boy." Never occurred to JC that the man and his wife were prospective homebuyers...no, to Jack they were prospective burglars or thieves. It was sickening really, it was one of the first times I had felt ashamed of someone else's actions, afraid that they'd somehow reflect upon me poorly, disgusted by the lack of tolerance and the utter ignorance harbored by a man who I looked upon as a friend.
As can be expected, that couple didn't come back to look at the house. After all, who would want to live there, with the neighbors like Mr. Cannon?
Finally, after a couple months, someone moved in that Jack couldn't scare off: a burly, bearded, bike-ridin' journeyman electrician who bought the fixer-upper with designs to do the renovation work himself over time while enjoying a cheap piece of property upon which to live. At first, the dude was a little scary to us...looked like a dang ole motorcycle gangster, a one-percenter, some type of hell-raiser to be sure. He had tattoos, a loud-growlin' Harley Davidson motorcycle, a beat-up truck with tool boxes in back and the words "WAR DAMN EAGLE" across his rear window in the kind of decals one would get at the hardware store to mark a mailbox.
We found out his name was Wally, and sure enough, he was mean as a dang-ole croaker sack'a blind rattlesnakes. We watched him beat his damn dog one afternoon with a pallet plank, just because the dog had the audacity to inadvertently wrap its lead chain around Wally's ankles while he welded, eventually making a loop that cinched and dragged the biker to the ground when the dog bolted towards the back fence to bark us down. Beat that damn cur-dog up one side of the fence-line and down the other until I thought he had killed it, the dog yelping long after the lashing came to a stop.
Then there was the time Wally had been sitting on his big back porch, enjoying what they called back then one of those there "left-handed cigarettes," the smell of pungent puba riding light on the silver-blue lashes of smoke lingering in the breeze all the way to our backyard. Wasn't long before I heard him hollerin', and his girlfriend of that time screamin', and all manner of fussin' and fightin' that resulted in Mobile's Finest pulling a-straddle his yard, their blue lights slinging off their sapphire shimmer onto the walls of neighboring houses, slashing silently through the darkness.
Then there was his suspicious routine burning of electrical wire, something I had to ask about to understand. Wally would back his work truck deep into the back yard, close to our adjacent fence. There, much to my mother's chagrin, he had installed a burn barrel, into which each weekend he'd pour bales of electrical wire, stoking the fire into a black, acrid pillar of smoke that hung low in the air rather than rising away. When I asked my mother's boyfriend why the fella was burning the wire, I got an answer that shed even more light on Wally the Auburnite's constitution and orneriness.
"Why boy, I say boy, he's burnin' that wire down for the copper, you see," said Gnarly Old Goat Dude (my mother's boyfriend of that era). "He's likely stolen it from a job site, and he's burnin' that plastic insulation off of it to sell it for the copper."
So Wally was a dog-hater, a woman-beater, and a copper-thief. If that there ain't the makings of a country song (or a typical Auburn fan), then hell, I don't know what is.
On with our story. Now my neighborhood counterparts and I, you see, we liked to have a little fun. Maybe it was playing football in the street, maybe it was having a bb gun battle in the ditch network that carved between the houses in the ‘hood. Sometimes, we'd play stick-ball, and sometimes we'd have stick fights. It was good ole American fun, you know, and we had a lot of it.
But on this particular day in question, we were, for whatever reason, bereft of any such entertainment. You see, it was one of those Mobile days in which the rain comes early and threatens to come again often, restricting our outside play to a degree. After all, can't play football in a wet street...that just ain't safe. And who wants to roll around dodging pellets in a wet drainage ditch? Apparently, none of us. We had hoped to get into Jeffro Bodeen's house to get on the Sega, as our continued friendship with him was almost wholly based on the availability of his video game system (the only such system in our end of the neighborhood). But Jeffro had been dragged unceremoniously away to some infernal doctor's appointment or other, leaving us to find some kind of rainy day activity of our own.
With little else to do, we piled up in our living room: me, my brother B-Rad, the only black kid in our end of the neighborhood Keef, and my friend Mook. We had basic cable at that point, and thanks to the Turner Broadcasting System, we had nearly universal access to reruns of the Beverly Hillbillies.
Now let me pause a moment to tell you something about my torrid affair with the Beverly Hillbillies: in short, I loved that damn show with a white-hot passion. I'd have married Ellie May Clampett ten times over, so fit and fine she was in my young eyes. I thought Jethro Bodeine (double-naught spy) was a comic genius, and Jeb and Granny were representative of too many people in my life at that point to keep account. I just thought it was hilarious, and I was attracted to the notion of poor simple folks hitting it big and throwing a wrench into the works of the wealthy.
We watched a good hour of the Beverly Hillbillies that day, and laughed like a bunch of hyenas. I don't remember much else that happened in either episode, but I do remember a phrase uttered during this particular show. No context, just this group of words that struck me as hilarious, "The durn fool neighbor commenced to run ‘round in his underwear!"
I know, it's stupid. Outside of any possible context, it makes little sense that this was a line to which I latched on. But I did. Anyone who knows me knows that when OWB finds a set of words he thinks is funny, he'll beat that damn dead horse into dust before he turns loose of it.
Such was the case with this particular phraseology. For the remainder of that day, out of the blue, I'd just holler "Durn fool neighbor commence to run ‘round in his underwear," all country-like in that pseudo-southern Beverly Hillbilly typa dialect. It was great. I had a blast with it, though admittedly, no one else within earshot found it nearly as funny as I did.
Given my repetitive recitation of this singular line of Shakespearean lyric, Momz banished me and the other boys from the house. With a drizzle still wetting things outside, we retired to the back porch cover, where we watched the goings on over our back fence. We saw what appeared to be two people on Wally's back porch, and it appeared as though they were wrasslin' or fightin' or something, horizontally. Best we could tell from afar, they were rollin' around all aggressive-like on one of the folded-out chaise loungers Wally had on his back porch. Lot of undulating, lot of thrusting, lot of bouncing around. Looked like maybe him and a girl.
"B-Rad, go get your binoculars!" I whispered, as if the guy 100 yards away from us would have heard us. B-Rad disappeared and returned a moment later with his bird-watchin' goggles. I drew a line of sight and focused in with the little wheel. Sure enough, I could make out that it was Wally and some ole girl, though still being of pre-pubescent stature, I wasn't at all sure what they were doin' a'wallerin' around up there on his back porch. It did, however, look like he had successfully locked her in some variation of a figure-four leg lock (which I now know to be a foundational part of the well-known Alabama Crag-dangle).
After a moment, the undulating stopped, and Wally got up from his reclined position and lurched to the rail of his back porch deck. He walked to the edge of the deck, took a swig out of a bottle of beer that had been resting on the railing, whipped out his ole unit and let go with a torrent or urine...right off the side of his own back deck.
"Y'all, he's takin' a piss!" I yelped to my buddies, all of whom were clamoring for the eye-goggles at this point to see for themselves this debauchery I had detailed in living verbal color. "He ain't got on no clothes but a pair of red boxers and boots, he's half nekkid."
Then I had an idea, as brilliant one at that given what I knew about the underclothed brute across the fence-line. Had I been older, I would have certainly first said, "Hold my beer, watch'is!"
I mustered up my hollerin' voice and let loose with the following at full volume: "DURN FOOL NEIGHBOR COMMENCE TO RUN ‘ROUND IN ‘IS UNDERWEAR!"
My clan immediately ducked down below the railing of my back porch, stifling giggles into their cupped hands and trying not to reveal our location. After a moment, I peeked over the top of the rail to see if there was a response, and there Wally stood, eye-ballin' over that railing, scanning the adjacent properties for the source of the aforementioned unflattering verbal barrage.
You know how they say in cowboy flicks and wilderness survival movies and such that if you have to shoot while stranded in the wild, only shoot once? Something about the fact that two shots will allow someone to triangulate your location and move in your direction, whereas one shot is impossible to locate.
Well, needless to say, I had not seen any of those movies at this point in my life, else I'd have made a different decision. Possibly.
What does any red-blooded American boy do in such a circumstance? Well, of course, he yells again.
"DURN FOOL NEIGHBOR COMMENCE TO RUN ‘ROUND IN ‘IS UNDERWEAR!" Only this time, convinced I was safely concealed, I didn't duck, but rather kept watching for Wally's reaction. It was fortunate that I did, or else I may not have seen him locate our location and come barreling down at us like a red-boxer-wearin' boar-hawg.
"OH SHEET! HE'S COMIN'!" I bolted, and my counterparts followed behind me as we leapt into the ankle-deep stormwater of the drainage ditch. Now just why I thought it would be entertaining to piss off the rowdiest, fightin'est, meanest sumbitch this side of the neighborhood, I cannot recall. Guess it was one of those momentary lapses of reason that strike the minds of young boys at times, only explanation I can rightly conjure.
Regardless, I damn sure wasn't about to let this hulking leather-chap-wearin' behemoth get his hands on me or my crew, for such would most resolutely end in some horrible form of death by Auburnite (you never know what those people will do...I mean, have you seen what they do to chickens?...THE HUMANITY!) I figured we wanted to throw him off of our trail so we could make a clean escape, and so maybe, just maybe, he wouldn't come to my house and rattle my mama's cage. I didn't know which would be worse, dealing with a half-drunk, amorously-charged angry biker, or dealing with my mother. To this day, I'd probably take death-by-biker and get it over with.
We ran around through the ditch, behind two neighbors' yards, to the next drop-in culvert that led down from the road into the drainage. We were just about to climb out and walk back home up the street (if the coast had been clear) when we heard that familiar chortle of his work truck and the screeching tires as he barreled around the bend just below our location.
"NOPE!" We dipped back into the relative safety and cover the ditch afforded. This sumbitch wasn't gonna let this go! No telling what he was gonna do when he caught up to us.
I knew we were going to have to go off the grid, deep cover, if we were going to survive this one. We retreated to a dug-in fort we'd built way back in a four-acre tangle of kudzu vines. So lush was this chest-high jungle of vines and tendrils that you couldn't see the subterranean entrance to our foxhole. We quickly filled in and sat quietly, listening for the rumble of that work truck's engine. We heard the truck, then heard it cut off. It was quiet for a moment, then there was some talking, followed by more quiet. Then we heard the truck crank again, and the sound disappeared slowly into the distance.
"You think he's gone?" B-Rad whispered. "It sounded like he was leavin', maybe ‘at Aubie sumbitch is givin' up."
"Well, I hope so," I said. "Just to be sure, though, let's take the long way back, wrap ‘round through the ditch and take the sneaky way back home." I most definitely didn't want to cross paths with this ill-tempered biker...after all, I'd seen what he was prone to do to dogs and womenfolk when the cards were on the table. Figured best we could hope for if he caught us was a stiff beatin', as this ole boy was about six-foot-four and 250 pounds of hairy, gritty thuggishness.
"Mook, go see if you see that rust-bucket truck parked anywhere up the street." Being a master of neighborhood reconnaissance, Mook slipped out of the fox hole, belly-crawled down the length of the ditch to the culvert, slid into the pipe and poked his head up to covertly peep through the drop-in to the street above. After about five minutes, we could hear him slither-slidin' back down on his belly like a moccasin, and he nestled back into the fox hole.
"Coast is clear, mane...he gone."
We each crouched our way out of the fort, sure to keep our heads below the cover of the kudzu vines that reached their verdant fingers skyward towards the sunlight. We dropped into the ditch and snaked our way to the culvert about a block from my house, and after seeing nothing to indicate we were being followed, we climbed from our subterranean haunt and back onto the street for a short walk to my house.
We were about halfway between the safe shelter of the ditch and my house when we heard that old F250 chugging around the block. Caught in the middle of two refuges, we collectively froze for a moment. We were dead to rights...nowhere to run, no time for it. As I saw the square nose of the truck peeking around from the corner, I knew someone had to act.
"Fellas, y'all run for the house...I'll head for the ditch and try to draw ‘im off of ya...Roll Tide." They burst off towards the house, and I dallied just enough to make sure the Aub terror had seen me before sprinting ditchward. I knew I was the most agile and intelligent of my group, and figured I could lose ole dude in the tangle and slip on home through the backdoor (that sounds oddly and unintentionally homoerotic, FWIW.)
Problem is, I didn't reckon him to be as quick, nor as reckless, as that Auburnite sumbitch proved himself to be. When he saw me, he gunned his engine up to a high growl, his rear tires spinnin' for traction. When they bit, he shot towards me, and I wasn't sure that this man-bear wasn't tryin' to run your narrator pure-dee over. Try as I did to cross that dozen yards of asphalt to the ditch before he could intercept me, Wally slammed his truck into my path, screeching the brakes to a halt inches before hitting me.
Never having been exposed to such vehicular recklessness on the part of an adult, I obviously froze up, paralyzed by disbelief that this crazy asshole was gonna run me over simply for proclaiming that A. he was a durn fool, and B. that he was commencing to run around in his undergarments (which, in fact, he was...he still had on nothing but those red boxers and a pair of insulated-sole construction boots).
As I stood dumbfounded, this inbred Beorn of Beau Terra leapt from his truck and snatched me up by both arms, raising me up to his eye level.
"WHAT. THE FK. DID YOU CALL ME?" he roared in my face. "SHIT AIN'T SUH FUNNY NOW IS IT BOY?"
I honestly had no idea what was going to happen next, I was scared outta my ever-lovin' mind. If I had not been dehydrated from several hours of fieldcraft in the bush, I'd have probably pissed my pants. I was shakin' like Michael J. Fox ridin' on a mountain bike trail. He stood there, holding me, my feet off the ground, his hot bourbon-laced breath snortin' right into my face. There weren't very many people who could hold somebody my size up off the ground like that, as even at that age, I was a big ole young'un, what they called "heavy-lunch" back in the day.
That's when it came to me...if my feet were danglin', there wasn't any reason I couldn't...
In one powerful swing of my leg, I reared back and launched that size 11 sasquatch foot of mine right into his soft (recently used) nether regions with the force of a ton of TNT Dy-No-Mite (as the poet Jimmy Walker would say). There was an audible "OOOOFF" that escaped from the big ole ursine Aub, and by nature of his immediate bending at the waist, I was returned with some force to good ole terra firma.
Not knowing how long this temporary state of genital-induced paralysis would linger, I took the opportunity to scramble home. I didn't even take the time to go around the Chinese holly hedge, ran right through it I did, gave me so many pricks I could'a thought I was at an Auburn rush party. I darted on around back, where the rest of my contingent had concealed themselves in the ole rusty tin shed, and I heard my mama talkin' to ole Wally near-about my front yard.
We heard the truck crank after a moment, and this time, we were sure Wally the Aub was gone, since we could hear his truck pulling into his own yard on the backside of our fence. When I got up the courage to snatch open that tin door, I found my mother standing there waiting, the look upon her face not one indicative of enjoyment or happiness.
"Get out here," she demanded. Feigning ignorance of the implication, I pointed at myself inquisitively. "Yes you, get out here."
I wasn't sure what would happen to me, but I figured it wouldn't be anything good.
"Why did you holler at that man? He said you embarrassed him in front of his girlfriend...I think you hurt his feelings, he was about near tears."
"What?" I hadn't expected that. "I didn't say nothin' bad, just hollered ‘durn fool neighbor commence to run ‘round in ‘is underwear."
I, in fact, knew that it wasn't his hurt feelin's that had his Aubie ass in tears, but rather a good ole foot-punch to the nutsack area that had him all welled up and moany. But, if he had not seen fit to inform my mother of this assault on his manhood, then I certainly could oblige by that. I didn't really fancy her adding genital assault to the list of infractions I had already committed that day. Imagine that, a Barner made a good decision, guess a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while after all.
I was sentenced to immediate detention in my room, which wasn't such a bad thing in retrospect. After all, the weather was shitty, and I wouldn't be outside much with some addled Auburnite stalkin' me from over the back fence. Best to just let that one simmer down a bit, if ya know what I mean.
I later came back into the good graces of this particular Auburnite, for whatever that's worth. I had taken it upon myself (and my pump pellet rifle) to rid the neighborhood pecan orchard (which stretched across several yards, his included) of that dreaded nut-robbin' tree vermin known as the gray squirrel (y'all know how I gets down with the tree rats, knowutImsayin'?) Upon witnessing the assassination of a particularly virulent cell of the brushy-tailed terrorists from the three pecan trees in his yard, the ole boy leaned over the back fence and gave me a $5-spot and a cold Shaeffer in a tall can (nothin' but the best for the Auburnite, amirite?)
"I hate them fckers," he growled, decades of cigarette smoke chafing his vocal cords to rusty wires. "Kill ‘em all."
Nice to note during this time of Thanksgiving that, even in this era of division and polarity, a Barner like this biker I nutted and a Bammer like me can find some common ground upon which to agree. Kill ‘em all, indeed.
Moral(s) of the story: 1. Never turn your back on the Barn, they some sneaky mofos. 2. When given the chance, kick those sumbitches square in the coin-purse, as I pray our beloved Crimson Tide does on Saturday.