Well faithful fans and friends of our beloved Alabama Crimson Tide Collegiate American Rules Tackle Football Squad, we have come to the moment of truth, the hour of reckoning, a D-Day of sorts for the men in crimson as they ponder their participation in the 2015 College Football Playoffs. Damn...that was one long sentence.
But alas, despite the verbosity with which I opine on the eve of this, most critical of gridiron battles for the boys in crimson and white, we have reached the point of the season in which our Hoodoo meets head-on with that Bayou-bred, Chachere-flavored warlockian cousin of a Dark Art, the ole-fashioned Louisiana Voodoo. For though our Hoodoo be stout and strong, the displaced Acadians of the Loozanna swamps wield their own powerful wizardry. Unlike the plain ole run-of-the-mill divil worshippin' cultism practiced by those animal husbanders on the so-called Plains of Alabammmy, these swamp dwellers possess a supernatural predisposition that has, in too many past episodes of this king-makin' series, dealt our beloved Crimson Tide a mortal blow.
In other words, these gator-huntin', nutria-eatin' purveyors of swamp-possum can not only match Bama facemask-to-facemask on the field, but they are our equal in terms of the Voodoo that they do. Well, I'll be damned.
Therefore, current and former citizens of the Great State and beacons of all that is light and good in this universe, it is your right...nay, your solemn responsibility, to drop yo Hoodoo dime on this here ledger this week, for Football Loki is most definitely keeping score. Our patron saint will himself do battle against some Voodoo high priest or other, whether it be Dr. John or Marie Leveau or whomever else the swamp people have knighted in pursuit of their eternal quest to rid themselves of the painful ache of butthurt they've carried since the 2011 Championship Game. (They say the elephant never forgets, but I'll be damned if the Tigah don't remember things for perpetuity, along with holding the incumbent grudge of the perpetually anally-pained.)
So as if I even have to tell you people, you know that this week, your contributions are not just needed. No, they are required. Failure to lay your sacrifice at the foot of Football Loki's throne will lead to your banishment from the Hoodoo Halls of Record and Note...and I can tell you friends, that is a place you'd rather not find yourself when the time comes to pay the piper and St. Paul Bear Bryant looks up your name in the Gilded Book near 'bout the good ole Pearly Gates.
Now this lil' ditty I'm finta weave for you fine folks is one from my "adult" years..I say, I say here I'm talmbout a story of potential treachery that could have changed the trajectory of this here fella's professional life and landed me in the most unsavory of slammers at the hands of men with whom I regularly fraternized. (That sounded homoerotic, didn't it...please, for the love of all that is descent, strike that last part from thine memory.)
As many "regular" readers of this here Hoodoo ledger have heard you faithful narrator attest, I cut my professional teeth as a young journalist working in the nethermost reaches of my dear ole home county, as well as the rural counties that are adjacent to it. A small-town newspaper editor sees and hears a great many things, and if he plays his cards right, becomes privy to some of the most bizarre (sometimes hilarious, sometimes tragic) circumstances that can light upon his fellow man. I made it my business to befriend the police officers in every community in which I plied my trade, as most of those small towns didn't have dedicated PIOs (that's "public information officers," for the nitwits among you, not some new-fangled Apple wristwatch gimmick...try to keep up.) Therefore, a reporter (that'd be me, y'all) who wanted to get the story behind the story before the Mobile daily could scoop it did all he could to make nice with the local PDs in order to get that preferential access.
To this end, I can't tell you jokers how many times your narrator was called to a coffee or cigarette break (statistics indicate police officers suffer heart disease at an increased rate due to the stress, but I gotta testify that the sheer volume of coffee-bestowed caffeine and nicotine has to have something to do with those numbers) to shoot the breeze. I'd pull up behind the sallyport and find a group of officers standing, laughing over the latest idiot who had the misfortune of running afoul of the law. I, of course, would join in the guffawery in the interest of brotherhood, solidarity and all that shit, laughing at the poor dumb criminals who thought they'd get away with figurative murder. (Never-you-mind that your narrator had himself been a perpetrator of some lively criminal acts in his younger day, as I have recounted for you fine folks here before.)
Take for example the summons I received from a police sergeant friend of mine, let's call him Staff, one afternoon. Staff told me to drop by "for a cup and a smoke" on the way back to Mobile that evening, as he had a ringer for me. It went a little something like this....
"OWB, I got one for you, you're gonna love ‘is shit."
"Lay it on me, brother."
"Ole boy was sa' drunk, he run off the interstate and down the bank in his pick-up truck, engine runnin' wide-ass-open. Unbeknownst to the skunked-up driver, his axle had come to rest on a stump, allowing his wheels to continue to spin freely without making contact with the ground. Driver continues motoring along, so drunk that he never notices he isn't moving anywhere.
"Officer comes by and sees him down there, and attempts to provide assistance. As the officer gets out of his cruiser, he hears what sounds like an engine runnin' and sees the rear-wheels just a'spinnin', only takes the cop a minute to see what has happened...the officer, you know him, it was Anderson, trickster sumbitch, he decides to play a joke, stalks up behind the car, and runs in place next to the driver side window as though chasing the car, hollerin' 'PULL OVER!'. Being skunked, the driver had still not noticed the car wasn't moving. After all, engine was still runnin'. Driver looks out, sees the officer runnin' beside him, thinks ‘What the hell?" and guns the engine again. Anderson falls back a little, then runs back beside the window, hollers 'PULL OVER DAMMIT!'. Driver finally resigns himself that he can't outrun the super-cop, drops it in park, turns the ignition off and awaits further instruction. Blood alcohol level: 0.15."
Great story, right? These were the kinds of dumb criminal stories I loved to write. I was regularly invited out to crime scenes and "vehicle safety checkpoints" (also known as revenue-streams), so much so that I came to know nine of every ten officers across the communities I covered. They trusted me with confidential information, allowed me to follow them on their raids. I respected their boundaries, and I know for a fact they had checked my criminal records to verify I was legitimate and trust-worthy before extending such carte blanche. Thank the Good Lord, despite all of my tomfoolery, I had never officially run afoul of the law, not in any documented fashion.
The toughest law enforcement beat to crack for me had been up in Washington County, a county that is geographically as big as Mobile County to the south, but with only 15,000 people on all that land. For those of you not familiar with WashCo, it was largely backwoods, largely controlled by a handful of people who pulled all the strings, engineered all of the elections and basically maintained their respective spheres of influence by making sure things never changed. Needless to say, citified outsiders like yours truly were not welcomed without at least a skunk-eye of caution, no matter how upright and clean-cut they appeared. I had a hard time breaking into that circle, and even with my publisher's well-connected country ass vouching for me, I had to prove my trust-worthiness to them more than any other population with which I regularly interacted.
It started with the probate judge, who said a word for me to the sheriff, a man who had been in office for no less than 340 years at the time of my arrival on the Washington County scene. He liked my publisher, and he took a liking to me, even invited me to come out and cover a huge pot bust near Fruitdale in which his officer, while serving a warrant, found a stand of no less than 80 fully-grown pot plants baking in the Alabama sun.
As the Sheriff, let's call him Sheriff Barleycorn, took a likin' to ya boy, he began to introduce me to his younger deputies and detectives, just so they'd know it was okay for them to talk to me and share info. After two years of trying, and many people extending their reputations to vouch on my behalf, I had worked my way into a position of favorability with Sheriff Barleycorn and his squad. It was pretty satisfying really, as few outsiders had ever gotten that kind of access in the rural frontier of this strip of pulp-wooded pine forests and rivers carving through the Alabama red clay with sharp, thin fingers of dark water.
Did I mention that Washington Counties is one of the few remaining relics of Prohibition in Alabama? Yes, ‘tis true, Washington County is what they call a "dry county," meaning the sale and possession of alcohol is akin to the sale or position of methamphetamine (which, incidentally, meant that there were regular busts of clandestine whiskey stills and meth labs burrowed into the pine thickets in old mobile homes and time-shrouded barns. Routinely, checkpoints in Washington County yielded arrest reports for not only possession of marijuana, but plain ole six-packs of beer! "What kind of backwards-ass shit is this?" I remember thinking, as a regular consumer of fermented hops and corn mash. It conflicted with my personal sense of justice that a man could go to jail for drinking a shot of bourbon, but to keep the powers that be happy and keep my high-level of access to the aforementioned privileged story-fodder, I covered those stories just as I covered the meth arrests and stabbings despite my personal sense of justice.
I worked hard to build and maintain that level of respect, in Washington County and beyond, despite my own somewhat tainted past acts of debauchery and my college years, about which one could write a Fear and Loathing in Law Vegas-styled tome. I never let on that I had a secret past, but rather buried it and played the role of the pure, die-cut square that was required of my privileged position with local law enforcement.
Now, that didn't mean that despite my Dudley Dooright-ish public persona that I didn't still like to ge-ge-ge-ge-get-getdown on the weekends, particularly where alcohol came into play. The life of a newspaper reporter is stressful, y'all. Not only are their constant, never-ending, unebbing deadlines, but the subject matter spans the spectrum from uplifting features about cancer survivors to one-armed right tackle feel-good stories to child-molestation tales of Southern Gothic horror. It's a tough line of work, as a small-town reporter sees everything, and has to find a way to process it all without losing himself in the contradiction that is the soul of mankind.
My chosen way to process it was to drown it deep, deep in the bottom of a bottle, preferably one that had previously held brown licka. Though I'm not proud of it, the 45 minute long commute home from my bedroom-community professional venue to my home in Mobile was the prime time to unwind with a drink and a smoke as I uncoiled the winding strip of Hwy. 45 that led me back home each and every day. Though I'm not proud to admit it, liquor was a crutch that helped me limp my way across the minefield of disillusion I tread every time I had to stand with a solemn family while they watched their house burn down, or listen to the tortured screams of women and children arriving at a fatal wreck scene in which their husband and father had been mangled to pulp.
Given the smallness of the community, and the propensity of the townspeople to gossip like a murder of magpies over every single little thing they could dig their claws into, I rarely purchased my alcohol in the town in which the paper was based. It was, after all, a Baptist stronghold, and if I know one thing about Baptists, it's that they don't miss an opportunity to cast judgment and subsequent opportunities for salvation at those who drink the Devil's liquor. (Side joke...know the difference between Baptists and Methodists?...Methodists will actually speak to each other in the liquor store...but I digress.)
Therefore, I either kept a fifth of Evan Williams (I ain't got no pride, y'all) or a coupl'a col'beers in a little cooler behind the truck seat most of the time. I'd usually buy it down in Mobile, where such liquor purchases are unminded by the town biddie-hens and therefore never make it into the gossip column. Then, before hitting the long, desolate stretch of 45 that carried me home, I'd buy a 20 ounce (or two) bottle of Co-Cola, pull to the shady side of the last-chance gas station on the south end of town, sip the neck outta the bottle and dump in a healthy portion of hard liquor for the long ride home.
By the time I got home, I had forgotten the trials and struggles of the day, and could look with fresh (if blurry) eyes upon the trials and struggles of the home front, where I was still attempting to become "okay" with the fact that I was a father. (I love my kids, y'all, but I still have days when I wish to hell I'da paid attention to Coach McElroy in that sex ed class tenth grade year..."Oh, so THAT's what you do with one'a them there rubber thingies...I thought they was funny-lookin' water balloons.")
During football season, my Fridays were pure-dee hell, y'all. People I worked for expected a man to make a silk's purse out of a sow's ear for $20-large a year, I tell ya what. To that end, I was required to, after reporting at my duly appointed 8 a.m. start time, work straight on through until the football games were over ‘round about 10 p.m. Now, I ain't good at math, but that's more than eight hours, no? It was rough, my mouth was always wadded up with cusswords on Friday evenings as I trekked from one end of the county to the other, from Bayou La Batre to Baldwin County to Millry in the deepest darkest corner of Washington County woods.
It was those trips north of the border to Chatom, Millry, Fruitdale and Leroy that were the most trying for my mortal soul. Hell, when I had to cover Washington County games, I'd end up watching football until 10, then making the hour-and-a-damn-half long ride home through the dark Deliverance-type woods and pitted, unmaintained surface of Hwy. 17. It was rough, to say the least, and though I loved football, I had a hard time getting excited about those trips and never-ending work days.
It was mid-October, and I drew the game of the week between the Leroy Bears (who were ranked in the top 10 in the state's 2A classification) and their arch-rivals from across the mighty Tombigbee, the Jackson Aggies. The football would be good, great even - but that damn ride home was going to be a back-breaker, especially after working for 14 hours prior. Leroy was almost all the way to Clarke County, and there was a good piece of driving between there and Mobile.
That said, I decided to muster a few dollars, and, as per my usual protocol, I made sure I had a bottle behind the seat for the ride back that evening. I know, it's not a good thing. Horrible, even. But I was young and dumb and full of....you probably know how that lil' ditty ends up. Only exception was that for this particular trip, I was going to purchase my mixers of choice on the way up, seeing as how most country service stations would be closed by the time I started my trek back home.
Everything was going as planned, just as it had every other Friday evening of the season. I shut down the newspaper office as the last one to leave, picked up my supplies, and headed north towards Leroy. Relatively secure in the amount of time it would take for me to reach my destination, I decided it would be safe to pour a drink, so long as I was finished with it by the time I reached the halfway point of my journey. After all, I didn't want to walk up to a high school football game in a dry county stinkin' of Evan Williams breath and cigarette smoke...just not a good look in the Bible Belt.
It wasn't an unpleasant drive, truth be told. I always loved driving through Alabama's rural roads, I usually saw something new that I'd never noticed before...a windmill wedged behind a white clapboard house, a turpentine-bonded log cabin hand-hewed from the surrounding forest, the side of a corrugated tin barn painted with a spring garden mural on the road-facing side. I'd always see deer around dusk, and this night was no different. Hell, there are more deer in Washington County than people. I sipped my bourbon, tugged at my clove cigarette every now and again, and listened to Pink Floyd roll through greatest hit after greatest hit.
Now if you've never driven in the country at night (and if you're from Alabama and you've never driven a country road at night, chances are your ass is agoraphobic or some shit), you may not know the depth of the darkness that surrounds one. It's akin to being lost in a sea of trees and stars. Headlights slicing the night like razors, the low roar of the untended pebbled pavement humming beneath my tires, I was lulled into a drifting consciousness. I wasn't intoxicated by the spirits I sipped, but by sheer fatigue, absolute darkness and the lulling sound of the car on the road conspiring against my tired brain.
I was shocked out of my semi-sleep by the hard, sharp, electric blue bursts of light, shattering the darkness just above the slight curve in the road ahead of me. At first, I thought it was just a traffic stop, some unfortunate soul sucked into the Washington County legal system, surely bound for a Friday night in what can only be described as one of the most archaic and Draconian jail houses in this fair state of ours.
As I drew closer, I realized it was not a traffic stop, but rather a checkpoint.
"Holy shit," I thought, clawing for a card of minty gum I kept tucked in the pocket of my driver side door for just such and occasion. I knew my breath was heavy with the scent of whiskey, and had to do something about it. I had the bottle of EW sitting on the seat next to me, and I couldn't find the brown paper bag in which it had been wrapped to save my life. While still driving, and still somewhat disoriented by the sudden turn of events, I could think of only one thing to do: I tossed the nearly full bottle of Evan Williams through the sliding rear window of my pick-up truck, not thinking about the fact that the TRUCK HAD AN OPEN BED. (That there, folks, is some of that foreshadowing shit he likes to do.)
In the remaining few yards before I came to a stop in front of the deputy's waving colored flashlight, I said my prayers. They sounded something like this...
"Please Lord and lil' Baby Jesus all wrapped up in the manger with the goats and sheep all around you and the hay-straw in your crib, please, please let this not be Deputy Lockjaw..."
You see, Deputy Lockjaw was a notorious hard-ass: a by-the book, lock-his-mama-up-for-jaywalkin' typa law dog. Dude was no-nonsense, and I had processed countless arrest reports that detailed his exploits. One time, he arrested a fella for coming back across the county line with a few 24 ounce PBR empties in the bed of his truck. When the poor feller protested, claiming that "they was only empty cans," Lockjaw raised the can, tilted and jiggled it until a single drop fell to the pavement, the hauled the old boy out and arrested him for possession of alcohol. He had arrested his wife's brother...HIS WIFE'S BROTHER...for taking two copies of the local Washington County Shopper out of the paper box when he only actually paid for one. (Now I don't know ‘bout none'a y'all, but a man that'd lock up his wife's brother is one brave mofo, know what I'm sayin'? That's a joker that just can't be swayed, a hunnerd percent law dog to be sure.)
I could tell by the way he wore his cover, a traditional brimmed ranger hat, that it was Lockjaw. Sumbitch looked like a burly, unsmiling Smokey the Bear or somethin'. I could feel it comin' in the air tonight...and if his reputation held true, I was sure that I'd be getting' real familiar with the Washington County hoosegow and all its illustrious inhabitants.
I tried to find my Zen calm state, which apparently I had also tossed into the bed of the truck with ole Evan Williams, because my hands were shakin' like Michael J. Fox at one'a them Halloween spook houses. First things first, TURN OFF THE DAMN FLOYD, OWB! For law enforcement officers in those parts, the mere possession of that "dope-head devil worshippin' hippie shit" was enough to convict and hang one without so much as a trial. I cut the radio off and chewed on my gum all rapid-like, musta looked like Mr. Ed tryin' to get chunky peanut butter off the roof of his mouth. I prepared to meet Lockjaw, composed myself and made sure I had my insurance paperwork and registration.
"License, insurance and registration, please," said Lockjaw in a deep, gruff country drawl. He was an intimidatin' sumbitch, reached a meat-hook out to receive the paperwork I was handing him with my own shaky hand, trying not to breathe my alcohol breath in his general direction. He looked at the paperwork, then looked back at me, shining his damn Maglight into my eyes and the interior of my little Nissan truck. "What about'cha license?"
I had forgotten to include my license in the packet of information I handed him. "Stupid, stupid, stupid," I thought. I had hoped to quickly get through the checkpoint, giving the deputy less of a chance of finding some minuscule reason to ticket me, or worse, detain me. I fished the wallet out of my back pocket, slid the license out of the card sleeve therein, dropped it on the floor, scooped it up to hand it to him again, dropped it again (this time out of the open window, where it fell on the pavement at his feet.) I could have sworn I audibly uttered the infamous Homer Simpson "DOH!" at that point.
He shined the light on the ground at my license, shined it back at me, back at the license. I expected him to demand that I get out of the car, but he stooped and picked up my documentation. He looked at it under the beam of the flashlight, shined the light on my face to see if the images corresponded.
"OWB, huh? You that newspaper reporter?" Shit. The jig is up. I was the just the kind of young, cock-strong city-slicker that he loved to cart down to the county seat, bound for the lock-up. He'd take great pleasure from arresting somebody "famous." (Admittedly, in Washington County, it doesn't take much to make one famous.)
I figured small talk may help (as if the likes of a man named Lockjaw was all about the witty banter.)
"Yeah, I'm on the way to cover the Leroy game up the highway here, sorry if I was in a bit of a hurry, I couldn't ‘bear' to miss it." (Did I mention the Leroy football team mascot was the Bear?)
Lockjaw was unmoved by my pun (imagine that, dumbass.) No smile cracked his frozen face, there was no fold in the leathery creases of his weathered façade. Without saying a word, he walked over to his cruiser, leaned down to the open door and grumbled something inaudible into his walkie-talkie. All I heard from the speaker was the word "Negative" blurted back by a female voice.
"Oh shit, negative? That can't be good, if it was good she'd ‘a said ‘Positive,' right? Negative can only be negative." I was worrying myself into a tizzy, sweatin' like a three-dollar whore in Sunday School. My onlyest (y'all like that, onlyest...if you've spent much time in rural Alabama, I know you've heard somebody say onlyest) hope was that he hadn't detected the scent of sub-par Kentucky bourbon on my breath, and hadn't seen that familiar square whiskey bottle tumbling around in the low-bed of the lil' pick-up.
Lockjaw walked back to my window and put that cotdang light in my eyes once again.
"I seen you had had a pistol permit in that wallet. You have a weapon in the vehicle?" Oh no, I had not even thought about that. This catdaddy was just buildin' a case to put me up under that jail. Above-ground floors of the Washington County jail were bad enough, and I sure as hell didn't want to see its subterranean underbelly. Gross.
"Uh, yessir, I have my .45 in my glove box...newspaper man can't be too careful out here on these lonely roads at night." Without him asking, I produced the pistol permit and handed it to him, and he again looked at it in the pool of light thrown by his torch.
"Huh," he grumbled. He shined the light around the cab of the truck a little more, then shoved my permit back at me. Then he walked back to his cruiser, and again got on the radio.
I was sweatin' bullets, y'all...big ole nasty, .50 cal bullets complete with tracers. I could see the headline I'd have to write about my arrest in the next week's paper (if I was even around for the next week's paper), and it wasn't even anything clever. (I prided myself on clever headlines.)
Lockjaw walked back to my truck. He stood like a stone at my window for a moment before speaking.
"One of your amber runnin' lights needs a bulb. I ain't writing a ticket. You're free to go."
"Hell yes," I thought. I thought I was "dead cracker walkin'," but my subterfuge must have worked. I can't believe a bloodhound like Lockjaw hadn't noticed the liquor on my breath or in the truck bed...it was a freakin' miracle or something. The lil' Baby Jesus had come through for me, y'all, throwing his holy newborn cloak of protection down on my stupid ass in the mercy our creator reserves for the truly stupid among us. Or something, I don't know y'all, I just don't look a gift-horse in the mouth parts, know what I'm sayin'.
I was about to pull off, window still down, when Lockjaw stopped his march back to his cruiser. As I drew near, he motioned for me to stop once again and growled something.
"Rot your gut with that Evan Williams shit. Need to get you some Old Forester." Then the mffkr actually cracked a smile. I swear, I thought it was the sixth sign of the cotdang Apocalypse, people, as this ole codger had never smiled not once in his life (least not that I knew of.)
I reckon I wasn't near as slick as I thought I was. Whether ole Lockjaw had respected my work as a journalist, or had just gotten some from Mrs. Lockjaw (well now, written out that doesn't sound that appealing) that morning, he decided to leave me be. Maybe he was a Leroy boy...hell, I don't know. But like I said earlier about them gift-horses and their mouth-habits, I said "Much obliged" and hot-footed it on over to Highway 43 and up to Leroy. Thank the Good Lord that I caught this ole coot on his one good day among the 365 in that year, as that bottle just have easily could have been my ticket to the swill hole of a lock-up there in Chatom, AL.
I swore to myself that I'd never again stick my alcoholic head into that particular tee-totallin' lion's mouth ever again. Toting liquor across the county line was a no-no for the remainder of my time at that paper.
A lesson learned, by the hardest. While I ain't the sharpest tool in the shed, my string of luck is right strong. (Onlyest way I've survived this long.) And like the old saying says, it's better to be lucky than good.
And to that end, since both Bama and LSU are both good, great even, I'm gonna go ahead and hope that the Crimson Tide has all the luck in its corner this go ‘round. FOOTBALL LOKI, HEAR MY CRY!
Roll Tide Roll.