I have been many places and done many things as my life passes by. I am similar to butter spread over a slice of hot toast. I melt right in. Like anyone, I guess I take on the persona of what is around me and try to become part of it. After all, it is in our nature. It is what defines us as social creatures.
Some people are more malleable than others. These people learn the rules and mores more quickly than others. They seem to fit right in no matter the environs. Those in their comfort zone rarely make mistakes as they refuse to subjected to situations outside their realm of experience, letting past incidents be the hard lesson learned.
Some of us are continually sampling the taste of our foot. You might think that the frequency of foot tasting has an inverse relationship with experience and age. You would be wrong. It is more of a direct relationship to the number of dissimilar situations into which we manage to inject ourselves.
For better or worse, those operating outside their comfort zone tend to have more variety in their lives. They tend to stumble through life bouncing off the unknown or perhaps just unwittingly getting in the way. We may understand what puts that foot in our mouth; but still, we are incapable or unwilling to avoid it. Eventually, the taste of foot becomes palatable.
Now, I have been around county folk since I was about 12 years old. Before that I lived in a medium sized university town. I had friends from the neighborhood, school or church. At the age of 12, my parents decided that the remaining children needed to be removed from the temptations of the city life. We moved out of town to the country; not far, just enough that sneaking out at night did not lead to roaming the city streets looking for trouble. Instead, I roamed pastures and woods, and a few occasional barns and out buildings.
This is the time when I was introduced to country folk, people far different than my young self. Their views and opinions of life and people were radically more different than my own. They also had no problem expressing such opinions. The school bus was not my favorite time of the day. I did not fit in. I had not yet learned to become butter. It was painful enough that I took to riding another bus to school, requiring me to walk an extra quarter mile to my friend's house to catch the other bus. But like anyone, as I grew older, I met many people from all walks of life and eventually learned that most people who are of such a poor manner are really afraid or untrusting of outsiders or the unknown. Getting around such fears is one of life's lesson.
Still, the experience taught me that people are different. In order to get along there must be some common ground upon which to communicate. As years passed, I learned how to approach a stranger; how to engage them in conversation and learn yet more about that person, find a common ground. I met some interesting people along the way. Each taught me something about themselves which in turn taught me something about myself. Many taught me skills that I would have never considered in my young life. I learned to fish, hunt, shoot a weapon, and drive like a bat out hell.....Oh, wait! That one was self taught. These are things that many country kids already knew. This was part of their lives beginning before they could remember. I learned in my late teens. As I discovered these past times, I felt that I has missed out and did all I could to catch up. After meeting my best friend we spent much time fishing and later hunting. I even went coon hunting a couple times just to see what it was about.
There are two kinds of coon hunting. One form is where old geezers turn the dogs loose, build a camp fire, sit around and drink moonshine saying, "Why that is ole Blue on the trail. It sounds like he's got scent of a 'possum.” They could tell the prey according to the sound of the hounds bark. I know this is a very stereo typical and quaint picture of a country past time but it is very true. Though I never partook of this form of hunting I know it exists from the many summer nights I spent listening to the hounds bay as they followed their nose across the holler and on down into the river valley while I was trying to sleep. There was no air conditioning in my room so the windows were wide open enabling the symphony of barking dogs well into midnight.
The other kind of coon hunting is chasing some damned fool of a dog through the woods, at night, pitch dark....in the woods (yes I said that twice), in 10 degree weather. Seems that this type of coon hunting is for pelts, and thus, is regulated by a season. This season happens to be in the dead of winter. It should be noted that “coon” is a generic term. In reality, any creature with fur is taken, even feral cats.
The former type of coon hunting is for recreation, companionship and championship. The later type is for profit. I found the later form of coon hunting a rather disappointing expedition to say the least. It was a one time endeavor.
After high school, I attended the university for a few semesters. I found the subject matter of my choosing not what I had envisioned in my young uneducated mind. It seems that the discipline of forestry was about timber and harvesting trees, rather than conservation and the betterment of nature. But, back then the current conservation movement was in its infancy and not part of the curriculum. I dropped out disillusioned and aimless. I took up various jobs that were spiritually unfulfilling and non-supporting of my basic needs. Eventually, I realized that sometimes you have to take the bad to earn the good. Seeing as I was going nowhere really fast I decided to change my direction, something I have learned to do very well.
The first time I left my hometown was to attend a forestry program in a vocational and technical school in southwest Arkansas. I moved into a real shithole of a mobile home....worse than the shithole mobile home I had just left. But, being young, this was okay with me as I was free, or so I thought....a subject for another time.
People from all across the region attended the forestry class. Most were from Arkansas, a couple from Oklahoma, and one abrasive Cajun ex-marine drill sergeant from Louisiana, names Louie. I liked that guy. He was tall, thin, with red hair, and a smile filled with gold capped teeth and gaps. His skin was exactly what you would expect of a tough marine Sargent who spent most of his life in the sun. He actually had more moles and freckles than me. His abrasiveness was just part of the show. He was actually a very warm hearted person willing to help and share in any way he could. He did not have any issues with my long hair and beard. He also got me hooked on Cajun coffee and Lucky Strike cigarettes. But don't blame him for my smoking. That was all me.
"Maady! Stand twicet so's you cn make a shadow!" or “Don't turn sideways! I cn see ya!" I heard these ribbings and many more on a daily basis. Yes, I use to be skinny as a rail. Something my youngest son could not escape.
I admired Louie. He went to school during the day and hauled chickens at night. He was a very hard working man. He taught me more about ethics than most people. He also taught me to blame the chainsaw when I got tired. Sadly, I have not talked to Louie in decades. I miss his warm hearted brashness.
Louie was one of several people I met that became my companions for the year. While we did not really do more than fish outside of class we worked with each other every day. There were two young men from the Morrilton area, two brothers from Springdale, near my home. One girl was from a small town near the school. There were two people from across the border in Oklahoma, one a native American and the other a single mother. We all had one goal in mind, to learn so we could get a better job. This common goal bound us while we were together for that year, despite our varied backgrounds. I enjoyed the class and the people. Even though, after that class and another attempt at forestry college, I still did not end up in forestry. But that is another story
The following is a fabrication, but to some extent a reconstruction of several events from my past into one single event. Not all of it is true but then again not all if false either, and I'm not telling. The names have been changed to protect the guilty. There are no innocent in this group.
As I mentioned I attended a forestry school in a rural part of Arkansas. The class was a mixture of locals and imports such as myself. We spent days tromping through what many would consider a jungle, surveying timber stands. When we were not cruising timber we were cutting firewood from logged areas to support the extracurricular activities sanctioned by the school.
As people will do when away from their homes and support groups, those without family responsibilities gathered after class. The subjects in this story would congregate at a fishing hole or some hunting spot learned about from the forestry instructor, a lifelong resident of the region. There was nothing sinister about any of it. It was just boys being boys and having a good time. But sometimes boys being boys and having a good time can turn south, so to speak.
On one of these occasions the gang was gathered around a campfire watching the fishing poles and drinking beer. One guy was named Larry. He was of the Choctaw Nation (Native American) in Oklahoma. Larry was short, thin, and loved armadillo meat. He would bring armadillo sandwiches for lunch. He offered a sampling many times. I believe he did it just to see the cringe on the faces of his classmates. None never accepted his offer.
Jeb was a young man fresh out of the army, general infantry. He was tall, thin muscular build, with red hair that had the audacity of a Brillo pad. As with most red haired folk he suffered from an attack of the freckles. He talked with a nearly unnoticeable lisp. Jeb was obviously proud of his service to our country. His histrionics of his achievements in the army were the cause of many eye rolls an face palms.
The third good ole boy was Dick, the son of a hog farmer. Dick had a big gun in the big gun rack of his big red 4wd pickup. Dick was short, wide, with hair that could not decide whether it wanted to be black or blonde. Dick and Jeb were from the same region in Arkansas and the best of friends.
While watching the fire and the fishing poles, a conversation started about who was the best shot. It was kind of a "Mr. Bad Ass" contest, if you will, that often crops up in gatherings of young males of all species. Of course, each in turn was required to illustrate how they were better than the other. The Choctaw proclaimed he was best because he was an "indian" (his words). The infantry hack proclaimed it was he because he was a professional marksman, and he had the sharpshooter meddle to prove it, face palm. The red neck claimed superiority simply because he was a red neck (again, his words) and carried a gun at all times. Each had shot countless critters...in a dead run...both he and the critters...in winter...in 6 ft of snow (this is Arkansas)...uphill.....both ways.
---As I type this the movie "Dumb and Dumber" begins to creep into my mind. Hopefully "The Three Amigos" does not!---
Meanwhile, back to the story.
While bragging about the trials and tribulations of killing furry animals, the subject arose of how merciful each one really was. The idea that a Bad Ass is merciful is a joke to begin with and shows just how ignorant males in rut can be. The fact that each would limit themselves in the slaughter by allowing some measure of grace to the poor animal in the gun sight is ludicrous. In reality, the argument had nothing to do with mercy and was just another euphemism for "mine is bigger than yours"; and yet another cog in the "Mr. Bad Ass" contest.
The infantry hack said that he gave his target three shots, one too far left, one too far right, and one dead center. If the target wasn't dead after the third shot he let it go free. I am sure that Jeb's drill sargent would be ecstatic to learn that A) it took three shots to hit the target despite boot camp and a marksman's meddle, and B) the trooper was willing to grant mercy to something in his sights. Perhaps “conscientious objector” would be a better occupation. There was yet another flaw in his logic. His bragging left room for improvement in the "Mr. Bad Ass" contest.
The red neck stated the obvious. He only gave two shots, one miss and one on target. After that the target goes free. Dick's argument did show some degree of linearity in thought, but the argument had the same mistake. Room was still left to better his stated precision and accuracy.
The "indian", being granted reward for being quiet until all cards were on the table, states the next obvious remark in the escalating "Mr. Bad Ass"; contest. He says he never misses. Again, a degree of linearity is expressed. Heck, if he had said that his pals can be as magnanimous as they like, but he would unload the clip simply because it was a hell of a lot more fun, he would have won the contest, hands down. But no, Larry fell into the same trap as his pals. Obviously, no conclusion was going to be reached this night. A competitive hunting trip was planned. Hubris was not a word in any of the these three's vocabulary.
They decided to congregate the following afternoon. The idea was a grand hunt for game. Each would hunt until dark. After the hunt they would all gather around the campfire and see just who was "Mr. Bad Ass". There was no restriction on weapons except that shotguns were not allowed, rifled barrels only. Caliber was at the discretion of the hunter. All three agreed that the game of choice would be squirrel. They were small, slinky, and quick; a perfect subject for the next step of the contest. No one asked the squirrel.
The next afternoon found the "indian" building a campfire at the chosen spot. He had brought a fifth of George Dickle sippin' whiskey for the celebration afterwards. Remarking that neither of his competitors was present he cracked the bottle and took a shot, just to "loosen up".
Thirty minutes and several more "loosen up" shots later, the infantry man showed. As he noticed the not so sharp state of his competitor he decided to cut him some slack and "loosen up" as well. Thirty more minutes later, the redneck showed up complaining about the ticket that the asshole sheriff in Horatio had given him. He was stopped for speeding but after seeing the weapon on the gun rack...loaded...he had to go spend some quality time in the sheriff's cruiser while having his license run through the wants and warrants. Good thing he did not find the Southern Comfort in the glove box...already opened with some "loosen up" missing.
All three men were gathered at the campfire. Discussion about the local sheriff and the day's timber cruising session flowed back and forth. There was more "loose up" passed around, more discussion, and more proclamations of being "Mr. Bad Ass". But none declared a start to the competition. They had "loosened up" too much. Before they realized it, it was dark.
In Arkansas, if it involves a weapons and four legged critters one or more licenses are requited. Arkansas has one of the finest Game and Fish Commissions in the country. They do a very good job of managing the wildlife and fisheries. This includes no hunting between sun down and sun up, unless one has a pelt license. The regulations specifically exclude spotlights, and shooting from a vehicle, moving or stationary.
The Marksmen ended up driving down a dirt road in the dark in a faded/rusted green '63 GMC pickup truck, the three of the marksmen standing in the bed of the pickup truck leaning forward on the top of the cab. Each one had their weapon of choice in hand on the top of the cab, loaded, and at ready. The truck headlights threw rays of sunshine down the road highlighting the dust soon to be kicked up by the speeding tires. Other than the headlights, it was pitch dark. There was no moon. They were on an unknown dirt road with loaded weapons, and well loosened up. Nothing good was going to come of this.
The marksmen and rifles were bouncing up and down with the rhythm of the road's pot holes and washboards. Mr. Two Shot Redneck's rifle suddenly went off, (that happens on a bumpy road with your finger on the trigger and safety off). No one ever knew where the round went, nor cared. The dude was using a .223 cal so the bullet is probably still going. With much cursing from the driver of the truck and howling laughter from the three marksmen, the hunt continued.
The headlights cast vision down the road at what appeared to be a much slower speed than the truck was moving. The rattling of the old truck was surpassed only by the sputtering noise coming from the hole in the exhaust manifold. Add in the hooting and hollering of the three, it was a wonder there was an animal within a half mile of the racket.
Nevertheless, a poor rabbit got caught in the headlights. Let's call him Buggs. Buggs jerked left, jerked right, froze! The nose of the truck dipped toward the road as the driver locked up the breaks. The dust continued its wispy journey past the marksmen, past the driver, past headlights then obscuring Buggs. The three marksmen were slammed forward busting their guts on the back of the cab and down striking top of the truck lifting their feet off the bed. Mr. Two Shot Redneck's rifle went off again, 2 rounds, 0 kills. Dude, by your rules, you're done.
Mr. One Shot Choctaw raised his body off the truck swearing in Cherokee. He saw the rabbit. Mr. One Shot raised his bolt action .30-06 with the 24x scope. He attempted to site in poor Buggs, but was too close. He waved the rifle around trying to get the critter not 15 ft away into the field of view of the scope. He was interrupted by Mr. Infantry emptying a 30 shot clip from his Ruger 1022 in a span of only a few seconds shouting, "IWO JIMA BE DAMNED!". He created a perfect circle of mini-craters all around the cowering critter frozen with fear, dirt flying up like a sand worm from "Dune". His drill sargent would be horrified.
The red neck fearing humiliation rose up and started firing in rapid succession before even sighting in on Buggs. One bullet ricochet off the hood of the truck. Another went through the hood puncturing the radiator hose. This should have been the first warning and a call to action by the driver and marksmen. The remaining shots dissected the perfect circle left by Mr. Infantry, making the circle and slash symbol right where Buggs was cowering. Only Buggs had said, "F@#k this shit!"; and took off down middle of the road melting into the dark.
Oblivious to the damage to his truck the driver slammed the accelerator to the floor. His attempts to keep Buggs in the high beams were fruitless. Yet, he endeavored to persevere and kept his foot in it. All three marksmen fell into the bed of the truck swearing like sailors.
Darkness, an unknown road, a whole bunch of "loosen up", maybe toss in a bit of vengeance and ignorance all made for a grand ending to the night. Buggs exited stage left. I like to think that the rabbit stopped to watch the coming spectacle.
The truck split the silence and darkness as it sped down the road in pursuit of the unseen rabbit. Like a horse with blinders, nothing could be seen left nor right; only that path of sunshine just in front of the truck racing like a turd through a sewer pipe. The three marksmen flailed around in the bed grasping for some sort of a hold other than dust. The red neck's last round left the rifle muzzle shattering the rear window of the truck.
In the same instant that the back window suffered its demise, steam began to erupt from the hole in the radiator hose. Flying glass and a steam geyser erupting up through the bullet hole in the hood diverted the driver's attention. In that fraction of a second a 90 degree left turn in the road knocked on the door. But the driver was not home. As the steering wheel was jerked left the right front tire dug in to the dirt. The driver had a brief sensation of success as the truck begin to turn.
His realization was crushed by the sudden awareness that the rear of the truck was going to quickly pass the front. The right rear tire slipped into the ditch as the truck turned sideways.
The truck slid down the road sideways for a short distance rapidly dropping speed as it went; that is until the rear tire caught on a rock flipping the truck onto its side at the precise instant it came to a stop. The driver was tossed out of his driving position only to be left clinging to the steering wheel like a 6 year old kid on the monkey bars or a dangling side of beef ready for the saw.
As the ass end of the vehicle was looking for the ditch the redneck jumped from the truck, his rifle slipping from his hand. He had hoped to clear the barbed wire fence as he bailed. He cleared the fence...right into a wild rose bush. His rifle hit the road just as the truck flipped up on its side, right under the rear wheel. It pinned the rifle by the barrel bending it beyond all use, shattering the stock and ruining the workings in the dirt and rocks.
Mr. Infantry stayed with the sinking ship, though he did fall the width of the truck to the dirt road as the truck came to a stop. The barrel of the gun got caught in the rail post holes on the bed of the truck twisting and breaking his finger along with his wrist and shoulder. This weapon was rendered useless as the barrel was bent and the stock was shattered.
One Shot Choctaw was tossed unceremoniously into a mud hole and destiny. Cradling his .30-06 rifle like a child, it took several attempts for him to get up right. His destiny might have been different had he just let loose of the '06. Reaching the road he realized that he had not even fired his weapon. Standing in the road silhouetted by the mingling dust in the glow of the headlights, he raised his rifle high in one hand. Out of shear frustration he let out a tribal scream, and pulled the trigger. The mud clogged barrel exploded. He is now known as "Lefty".
Instead of winning the "Mr. Bad Ass" contest, all three won the "Mr. Dumb Ass" award.
As mentioned, in total none of this is true, yet parts are. Larry did not loose his hand, Heck, the hunt did not happen, at least not in this manner. Buggs is real as is the keen targeting skills of the man with the Ruger 1022. In reality, none of the three marksmen ever stalked prey together, though they did cruise timber and cut firewood as a team. The truck was real as was its fate. It did end up on its side in the middle of a dirt road in the dark. It was righted to its 4 wheels by a grumbling local who was rudely awoken out of his bed. It was even driven away only with a slight skew to the cab. “Really, Uncle, it was hit by a bail of hay.”
The fishing trips were true, yet after one trip the marksmen were too tired to clean the catfish they had caught. Not willing to free the fish they took them to another school mates house and dumped them into the bath tub, including an eight pound flat head. The school of catfish was found the next morning by one of brothers as he went to shower for the day. Men do scream like little girls.