Well, well, well…we’ve reached that time of year again, have we not? This Christmas for grown-ups, this Season of Giving on behalf of the Football Gods.
It’s time for the 2016 to kick off, and you all know what that means, no? It means the time for sacrifice is upon us, a time for burnt (nay, scorched) offerings from our shameful days of youth place to be placed at the feet of the mighty Football Loki. Yes, this cherished season in which we all so delight is truly a gift, proof that Football Loki exists and he wants us to be happy.
But these glorious pigskin-bound gifts don’t come freely, nay. They are bought each week with a hefty price, a toll paid not in gold nor silver nor skins of wine, but in shame, embarrassment and debauchery. For those of you who’ve ridden this Golden Bull of Hoodoo before, you know the routine.
But to the newcomers among us, the uninitiated, the catechumenate of this here Hoodoo, allow me to explain in brief what it is we hope to accomplish in this space. From times long forgotten, we RBR’ers have sought to appease the fickle whim of our benefactor Football Loki by offering at his altar tales of woe, of shame, of embarrassment from out sordid and treacherous collective pasts. For it is these indignities that endear us to our patron, and it is these disgraces which feed his football-loving soul. So in order to feed this flame, we trade tales from our own past in this space.
Maybe it’s the time you stole a $20 spot out of the church collection plate to feed a beer bender (I most certainly have not done that…I most certainly have not done that more than once…three times…in the last three years…who am I kiddin’, I haven’t been to church for well more than three years). Maybe you had to pull a “Chickasaw steamer” off the side of a viaduct when you couldn’t find a suitable restroom (I mean, sometimes rest stop bathrooms are wholly unacceptable for anything aside from late-night highway sexual encounters…NO). Maybe it was when you were caught sans underwear in the living room of your paramour’s parents’ living room (or in my case, my paramour’s grandmother’s living room).
Whatever you do, make sure you leave some embarrassing tale to supply our Hoodoo fortune. After all, we’re all friends here, right? No one will point and laugh…for more than a good hour or two. And if you’ve lived the squeaky clean life of a man who would take his kids to Disney World during a pivotal Iron Bowl, then by all means, please avail yourself of Option 2. If you don’t have an embarrassing tale (or if you’ve expended all of your best material in past campaigns ala long-time contributor Fitty), then feel free to engage in some act of self-flagellation (not that kind, Joshua Chatham) by chugging a bottle of Jack while doing a handstand, putting hot sauce in your eye, or listening to Nickelback and Miley Cyrus albums simultaneously (just make sure to put down a sheet for when your ears begin to bleed, don’t want to get any of that on the couch). Whatever floats your boat, you people are weird and I don’t even know how you get down. Oh, and regarding self-flagellation, pics/ vids, or it didn’t happen (Dammit Josh, if I see one fap pic, I swear to all that is holy…) The rest of you feel free to post in the comments.
Now, as longtime readers know, your humble narrator forgoes such acts of self-mutilation in favor of time-worn, long-spun tales of ribaldry from his wanton youth. Given the challenging nature of our loaded first opponent, I had to pull out a story that I can’t believe I’ve not recounted to you fine people in some past epoch. It’s a good one, and will most definitely be reminiscent of a beloved Hank Williams tune, if in title only (“Damn, y’all, OWB already in mid-season form with that foreshadowin’.”)
It’s been said that in my beloved South, one’s first best friends are his cousins. I was fortunate in this regard, as on my mother’s side of the family, it was nothin’ but boys. Of course, my mom had me and B-Rad, but her sister had two hellions of similar age; and my lone uncle on that side of the family had a son of his own. We were all born within four years of one another, so any family get-down usually broke out into an impromptu football game, a rousing round of run-and-hide or just plain ole-fashioned wrasslin’ in my grandma-ma’s backyard.
As we grew older, of course, our interests diversified, as the interests of young men are wont to do as they move into their pre-teen years. By the time we were in the 9-13 year old range as a group, we had cast off the boyish trappings of our youth in large part. Instead of scooting Hot Wheels around on the kitchen brick, we shot pellet guns at unsuspecting furred and feathered critters in my aunt and uncle’s yard. Instead of playing basketball in the driveway, we were building ramps for three-wheeling daredevil acts in an open pasture.
And then there were our annual Fourth of July bashes. How I miss those parties. Of course, we’ve all grown up, started families of our own, moved to locales far-flung from ole Mobile. Fourth of July hasn’t been the same in quite some time. Back in those days, we’d haul out to my aunt and uncle’s house off of Scott Dairy Loop, a tony area in West Mobile that was well out of the city limits at the time. Their yard was literally a dairy at one time, and when they originally renovated the old farmhouse on the property, it was surrounded on all side by corn fields, woods and carmine-red pig-trails carved into the Alabama clay beneath the moss-dripped branches of two-century-old live oaks.
For a city kid, it was a place I always loved exploring. We’d slice through the corn patch to the north of the property, slashing between the rows like skink-lizards through tall grass. We’d emerge from the cooling breath of the corn stand, cross the dirt road, and penetrate deep into the emerald forest on the other side. On the average adventure, we’d follow an old power co-op easement, an open lane which made the going so much easier without having to pick through the briars and bramble that grew into a snare in the mottled shade beneath the grand forest canopy. Once we found a spooky, decrepit farm shack: a single-room, clapboard house, it’s formerly white-washed boards grayed and split from the passing of time and the falling of thousands of inches of sub-tropical rain. It had long been abandoned, save for a mattress, a few empty Schlitz cans and the typical assortment of well-worn spank books and used prophylactics scattered about the empty space.
There was a creek that wiggled through the woods, and though the surrounding topography was generally hard clay below the initial six inches of top-soil, this creek’s gentle bends were couched in soft white sand, sediment separated out from the heavier soils by the gently whispered babbling and bubbling of the soft flow over the nearby farmlands.
It was a beautiful escape from the squared lawns and black-top of my neighborhood, a more primitive look back into the Alabama that existed well before my birth. Every time we’d make the 30 minute trip out to Scott Dairy Loop, I’d wrap myself in that quilt of country life and remain there until the time came to return back to the mundane suburb that I called home.
As beautiful a scene as it was most of the time, on the Fourth of July, it became Beirut. My uncle Ickabod, the HR manager of a local chemical plant, was a quiet tempered, bookish fella from Atmore who was more inclined to pore over real estate listings and stock market news than anything else. He loved fishing, and he did that avidly. And he was damn near the best non-pro tennis player in the Mobile area, dominating the tennis center tournaments handily with a killer smash and reliable, powerful backhand. He was quite the gardener, and in fact was the first person to ever teach me how to use a tiller (His sage advice to me as an aspiring 7-year-old tiller operator: “Sometimes you just gotta manhandle it.”)
But what he really loved, aside from B horror flicks, was fireworks. Normally very reserved (after all, he was an HR guy…you know the personality type), whenever the smell of burnt gunpowder saturated the air, he’d get just plain giddy. Normally tight with his money (he once paid me, my cousin and his girlfriend $600 – to split – to repaint a rental house inside and out, refinish the hardwood floors, repair sheetrock, replace plumbing and repair eaves outside), whenever the Fourth rolled around, he was Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas morning, a madman darting from back-country fireworks stand to fireworks stand, ploppin’ down his hard-earned funds for things that go “boom.”
I don’t know from whence this infatuation with pyrotechnics arose. I know his family grew up pretty poor, and if you know anything about Atmore, you know that in the era before the Poarch Creeks set up shop at Wind Creek, most of Atmore was dirt poor. Maybe he loved fireworks because it was something he was denied as a child. Maybe to make up for that subconscious unfulfilled want, he elected to make sure his kids would never want for smoke and fire.
Regardless, the most eventful part of our annual Fourth of July, was the trip to the fireworks stand. The women folk weren’t allowed to come along, as they would most assuredly dampen the mood with worries about things like “safety” and “not blowing your fingers off.” Sissified, to say the least. We weren’t worried about any of that…after all, if the Good Lord didn’t intend for you to blow off a finger or two, he damn sure wouldn’t have given you ten of them.
We menfolk would stride boldly into the local walk-in stand, hailed by the owners and clerk hailing my uncle by name. “Ickabod, have I got something to show you, just came in on the truck last week.” “Have you heard about these M-8000’s? Illegal here, had to get them shipped in from Guadelejara, don’t tell nobody.” “Ickabod, these cherry bombs right here…I put one in a possum carcass I found out on the highway, and I’d be damned if it slung possum grease for fifty feet in every direction!”
Though a background player in many scenarios in his life, at the fireworks stand, he was a cotdanged superstar, like the dang ole Brad Pitt of Pyrotechnics. He’d drop, oh say $500 or so at one stand, then stop at another couple on his way back to the house just to fill out his arsenal. He’d give us a wad of cash and let us pick out what we wanted individually, partially to delight us and partially as a mathematical lesson on how to spend wisely.
We’d return to the house with literal bags full of fireworks, enough to throw over the shoulder in gunny-sack fashion. This spending was typically greeted with scorn by the female members of our party, maybe because of the “wasteful” expenditure on things designed to just blow up, maybe because they were operating under the impression that some harm would come to us as a result of the bounty.
As for us boys, we’d play by the rules laid out by our overseers in regard to the dangerous explosives at our disposal. Never hold a firework in hand while lighting it. Always keep water nearby in the event that sparks fan into flames. Never, ever, ever-ever-never-ever aim any type of projectile firework at anyone else.
As boys who regularly engaged in pellet gun battles when not under the yoke of our elder wardens, we viewed these regulations as gospel when around the parents. However, the moment we stepped out of earshot, we viewed them more as loose guidelines for conduct. Boys being boys and such.
After fulfilling our familial obligations to eat burgers and ribs and shoot a few bottle rockets for the grown folks to see, we generally had a few hours to kill before night fall and the subsequent fireworks show extraordinaire. We’d bundle up our brown paper bags full of harmless explosives, pick up a bb rifle, and head for the woods, where the veil of kudzu and underbrush would obscure the dastardly combat in which we were soon to engage.
The particular Fourth of July in question, all five of us were available for warfare. My cousin Matt and I were the eldest of the group, so in the interest of fairness, we partnered up against the three younger cousins for this battle royale. The two forces had a parlay to discuss the terms of battle, a moment of civil calm before the storm of war.
“Now, we gotta have some rules, boys,” I said firmly, being the oldest of the group and the obvious general of this rag-tag group. “Let’s not try to catch each other’s hair on fire, be hard to cover up a blistered scalp when we’re around the grown folks. Don’t fire at anybody from close range, that’s self-explanatory. If you’re using a BB gun, don’t aim for the eyes. And for God’s sake, no shootin’ anything at anybody’s nutsack.”
This last point would seem to be an unstated guideline, especially amongst a group of boys. But my cousin Deer (we all have that one cousin), well, he had a different style of combat which was nothing but unpleasant for the rest of us. Whether it was a pellet gun or a Roman candle, he had a penchant for focusing fire on the groin of enemy combatants. And he was a dead-eye shot, even with semi-aimable projectiles like bottle rockets. Luck always seemed to be with him. Damn near neutered half the lot of us with that shit, and as a result, specific rules of engagement were constructed under the Treaty of Grandma-ma’s Yard (ratified in 1986) to prevent such genital assault in future campaigns.
The rules agreed upon, we agreed to walk away from each other while counting to 100 aloud. Upon reaching 100, combat would officially commence. And so it began…
We reached that point of numerical demarcation, and fearing some treachery from our enemy, Matt and I leapt behind a nearby utility junction box to survey the landscape and plan our offensive. Our enemy had retreated into the nearby tree line, melting into the green like butter on a black-iron skillet. We were on an island, isolated behind the olive-green steel utility box. Between us, nothing but an easement overgrown with waist-tall, summer-scorched saw grass.
Our enemy was relentless, firing rocket after rocket at our meager cover, splashing embers off of the junction box which spilled onto us, worming black-lined holes through out clothing. We were pinned down by superior firepower, and were unable to return fire without exposing ourselves to a direct hit.
“Whatcha think?” Matt asked me. “Should we just start shootin’, or should be try to draw them out first?”
“Well, we can’t stay here, I reckon we need some of that ‘cover-fire’ they’re always talkin’ about in war movies.” The steel of previous combat had sharpened my preparations. Roman candles made for fantastic suppressive fire, and they were all the more aimable if deployed via PVC pipe. Therefore, in my idle moments, I had created a portable mortar of sorts from inch-and-a-half PVC and a sizable C-clamp. My new creation was the perfect weapon for this task, as I could set it up, light the fuse, and allow it to shoot directed fire while we fell back to a more defensible location.
I lit the fuse, dropped the candle in the tube, and propped the apparatus against the junction box. It set off, dumping sparks with repetitive “FLOOSH” sounds, covering our retreat to the opposite stand of trees, a spot of greater cover for my forces. The plan worked perfectly. We fell back without looking, scampering through the tall grass to the piney woods behind us. I heard hootin’ and hollerin’ from our enemy as we fled, and took that as further evidence that our superior ingenuity and technology had seized the upper hand in this battle.
“Ahhhh, AHHHHH FIIIIIRE!”
“OH NOOOOO, RUUUUN!”
Sure, these were the cries of a routed enemy. Their womanly screams of defeat were music to my martial ears. We would negotiate the terms of their surrender directly, and we would rule as kind overlords over this newly-conquered territory.
We fell behind the shelter of trees, and turned back to survey the victorious battle field. That was when we discovered the true nature of those cries of defeat.
Remember that easement? The one covered over with a high-piled carpet of saw grass…drought-dried saw grass? It was on fire. Apparently, my invention had kicked over from the recoil of the Roman candle, spitting fire directly into that Alabama kiln-baked tinder. Flame licked through it as if it had been soaked in gasoline. I could no longer see the stand of trees in which our enemy hid, but I could hear them yellin’ “FIRE FIRE FIRE!”
“Oh shit,” Matt said. “I left my bag of fireworks over there behind that box.” His whole bag of fireworks. His WHOLE PAPER BAG of fireworks. It was literally inches from the hissing, kicked-over Roman candle, and it was only a matter of minutes before it lit aflame itself.
“Oh shit is right, gonna be hard to cover up a COTDANG FOREST FIRE!...we gotta do something.’”
I had accidentally let small fires get out of control before. I mean, what red-blooded Southern boy hasn’t had a scary experience with flame. I once lit a coffee can full of isopropyl alcohol on fire, and when the flame proved higher than my comfort level, I kicked it over and spilled flame everywhere before I stomped it out.
Being bereft of water or fire-fighting equipment of any kind, I decided our only hope was to try to stomp it out before it got any bigger, and before the fire got a’holt of Matt’s Ditty Bag of Destruction.
“Com’on, we gotta try to step it out,” I yelled at Matt. The flames were taller than us by this time, and they were raging over what amounted to about half an acre. We dashed into Hell’s Breach, undaunted, in hopes of starving the flames and ending the threat.
Timidly at first, I began tamping at the border of flame with my size 12 tennis shoes. It was hot, as one can expect from an open fire in early July in south Alabama. With the fire growing quickly, I cranked up my stomp, motioning Matt into the fray, as he heretofore stood watching me act rather than getting involved.
I turned to look at him. “DUDE, COME ON! WE GOTTA STOP IT!”
In that moment, the edge of my knee-length shorts smoldered into flame. I tried to pat it out, but they were synthetic, and would not cooperate. The heat was unbelievable.
“MAN, YOU’RE ON FIRE!” Matt yelled.
Nice detective work, Sherlock. Not sure how I missed that one.
I flailed and slapped, trying to swat back the flames. But they crept up my leg, singing my pubescent leg hair and scaring the ever-loving shit out of me. All of this transpired in mere seconds, and I had to think fast.
So what did I do? I snatched those flamin’ britches clean off my body. I slung them blindly, just trying to get the fire off of me. They came to rest in the flame, where they were quickly engulfed.
In the pants-based conflagration, we had neglected to retrieve the bag of explosives at our feet. As expected, it lit. At least it had the courtesy to issue forth a devilish hissing sound before exploding, giving us a valuable second or two to flee the pending firebomb.
That bag of fireworks went up in a crackle-boom-sizzle that slung fire for 360 degrees. It was akin to the Willie Waterbug sprinkler toy we’d had to keep cool in the summer…only instead of refreshingly cool (less deadly) water, it was slinging out tentacles of cracklin’ flame. All we could do was stay low and pray…it was terrifying.
It was like something out of Apocalypse Now, Director’s Cut. There I stood, pantless. Black smoke obscuring my vision, towering flames swirling all around me. My shoelaces singed and melted to my shoe tops. My eyebrows were all but gone. And again, I had on no pants.
My cousin cackled, his face blacked with smudges of soot from dead embers raining down on us like dirty snow. By this time, my other cousins were long gone, seeking to distance themselves from the event in the interest of plausible deniability.
We made our way around the still-burning fires, having given up on extinguishing them and hoping that nature would harmlessly run its burning course. That’s when I heard the sirens…
Seeing the black-gray smoke charcoaling the sky from a distance, some Dudley Dooright had contacted the local volunteer fire department, which had quickly dispatched a brush fire unit to investigate. That, in and of itself, was probably a desirable outcome…’cept for I wasn’t wearin’ any pants, and had to come out of my shoes given their melted nature.
“Oh shit, mane, I gotta hide!” I said to Matt.
“Yeah, me too, I don’t want to be here when they get here. Com’on, run this way.” I deferred to him, as he was far more familiar with this area, given it was his home base. I followed…pantsless still.
We hustled through the woods to remain hidden, which was a real treat without any cotdang britches. Have you ever tried to dart through a tangle of gooseberry bushes, rattlesnake vines and yaupon without any britches on? If so, then God bless your soul. I was ripped damn near to shreds, with red stripes drawing a grid on places that never saw the light of day.
We made it through the thicket to…the roadside. Matt motioned for me to follow him.
“Man, I can’t just stroll down the road without any britches on! Are you crazy?”
“Yeah, that makes sense. Wait here, I’ll go get you some of mine from the house and come right back.”
He darted across the dirt road, and I hunkered down, listening to the din of firefighters working their way through the area with shovels, axes and water tanks. I could still smell the acrid burn in the air, and there was a silver-gray haze hanging everywhere. I tried my best to hide, but could hear them getting closer, and there’s only so much hiding a pre-teen feller can do when he’s in the woods sans pants. I could hear the firemen talking over their work.
“Caint have been lightnin’, ain’t been any storms today…”
“Too far away from houses for it to be from a grill fire or somethin’…”
“Must be somebody set it on purpose…”
“Oh damn,” I thought. Not only was I pantsless, hiding in the woods. Now I was a pantsless arsonist, hiding in the woods. I knew I couldn’t be found, and stayed as low as I could.
The wait was excruciating. What the hell was Matt doing, enjoying a hot dog and some homemade ice cream? Watching the Boston Pops perform their Independence Day program? It had seemed like an awful long time I’d been there tucked (with no britches) into the underbrush.
I heard footsteps about 20 yards in front of me. The firefighters were walking nearby, I reckon making sure the fire hadn’t spread into the stand of trees which were all that sheltered me from certain embarrassment (and possible criminal charges). I closed my eyes and prayed a shameful prayer to my Savior.
“Dear Jesus, please don’t let these men find me hiding out here by this fire with no pants on. Please, please, please, I promise I won’t ever set the woods on fire ever again.”
I heard a hissing behind me.
“Great. Snakes…it had to be snakes.” The only thing that could have made my situation worse was the injection of predatory wildlife.
I turned to investigate, and saw Matt, belly-crawling towards me with a pair of athletic shorts clinched in his teeth. I had never been more relieved to see a person in all my life. He shimmied between the briars to me, handed me the shorts. But before I could get them on, there was a branch-snap in front of me a bit, followed by a guffaw.
“Hey Mac, come ‘ere and check ‘is shit out.” A smoot-smudged cracker fireman stood over me. Pointing and laughing ensued. I didn’t know what to do, my worst fear realized. So I did what any sane, sensible man of character would do: I broke and ran like a damn scalded hound.
“AHHHHHHHHHH!!!” I hollered and ripped through the tangle of the clawing scuppernong vines and scrub oak fingers, not even knowing where I was going but just running…and running…and running. When I finally slowed down to draw a deep breath, I was alone. Nothin’ around but trees and a black chimney of smoke rising into the sky above the tree tops. No Matt. Thankfully, no firefighters. But likewise, no idea where in the hell I was or which direction I needed to bear to get back to my aunt and uncle’s house.
“Think man,” I told myself. As taught by my faithful Boy Scout friends, I remembered to use the sun to get my bearings. And if there was anything that stood out about this Alabama summer day, it was that burning sun. Gaining my sense of direction, I made my way in what was the direction of the house, until I came upon a dirt road. Thankfully, I recognized the road. But I also recognized that I’d have to walk down it half nekkid, as I had lost track of those replacement draws when I bolted.
Resigned to my fate, I began to walk, hoping I could get back and locate Matt from the concealment of the cornfield, get some replacement britches, and do my best to play off this string of unfortunate events in front of my kinfolk. At least, that was the plan.
I hadn’t set two feet on that dirt road when I heard the rabblin’ rumble of off-road tires on that hard packed clay. I thought about runnin’, but at this point, to be honest, my big ass was worn slap out. I assumed my fortune like a man, and turned as I heard brakes slowly squeaking behind me. I heard snuffed laughter…of course.
“’Ay son, where your pants?” It was the brush fire unit, the same fire fighters I had fled in embarrassment. “You purty tore up, ain’t ya?”
Sure enough, I was. Looked like my legs had been put through about 200 yards of rusty barbwire back’ards.
“Yessir, I guess so.”
“Want a ride?”
What the hell? Why not. Save me the indignity of the neighbor girl, or heaven forbid, one of my kinfolk finding me walking, nekkid-bottomed, up that damned road. The ride was uneventful, guess they didn’t suspect me of the act of arson that had called them forth that day, as nothing was said about fire at all. Though, throughout the ride, the chuckling never ceased. Guess I would have laughed too…HAD I BEEN WEARING PANTS.
This represents one of my many, many run-ins with authority of some type or another, and it marks another in a long-line of poor choices and decisions gone askew. Fortunately, it represents the only time (that I can remember) that my britches caught fire (at least, in a literal sense).
So there you have it. Hank Williams would have been proud of my efforts. I guess. Roll Tide, beat SC.