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various essays on, well, art and culture
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'Jim Downey' Stories
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I’m at -7.13/-7.33 on The
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|21 February 2005|
[Look here for part one of this story.] [Look here for part two of this story.]
Jim Downey and the Amazing HoopiePart three: A Very Strange Sunday
I awoke the next morning to a beautiful late-fall day. The sun was out, it was already as warm at 10 o'clock as it had gotten the day before, and I figured that before long we would be heading home. Little did I know.
Surprisingly, I wasn't the first one up (except for Stalking Charlie - I expected him to be awake already). Uncle Clem was sitting in his chair, coffee cup in hand, staring quietly into the fire. And off up by the side of the bus, near the booze table, were a couple of guys in rickety folding chairs who looked very much like they had been up drinking all night. I stood there for a couple of moments, trying to come up with their names. They were brothers, that much I remembered. Both were married; I had witnessed them rudely greeting their wives the night before. Dan was the one . . . and . . . oh, yeah, Stan was the other. Both had black hair, short, slicked back in a style that had disappeared at least a decade earlier. In their late 20s or early thirties. Both thin, short, but muscular.
They were having some kind of argument, I could tell, though their words weren't clear enough where I stood to discern exactly what they were saying. But it was animated, in a brotherly sort of way. Well, a drunken, redneck, brotherly sort of way.
I walked up to the fire, Charlie watching me the whole way, Uncle Clem noticing me as I got close. He said, "He'p yerself t' coffee, boy."
"Thanks." I had brought a cup, hoping. I nodded to Charlie, poured coffee, looked up at the brothers.
Clem followed my gaze. "Pay 'em no mind. They's always that way after huntin'."
Being a little closer, I could see that the younger of the two brothers, Dan, had half-dried blood all down his shirt. "He OK?"
Clem looked at Dan, squinting, as though he hadn't noticed the blood previously. "Huh. Yeah, I reckon. Prob'ly jus' them wrastlin' some."
I nodded, sipped my coffee. Hearing movement behind me, I turned to see Rich pull himself out of the tent, stand and blink in the bright sunlight. He disappeared into the woods for a bit, then came back around the tent, reached inside and brought out a cup, headed our way. But he paused to rap hard on the side of Jerry's pickup, where I could still hear Jerry snoring away. The snoring stopped.
"Yeah. Whaddya want?"
"Jerry, it's almost ten. Wanna get moving?"
There was a pause. "Oh, yeah. Gimme a minute."
Rich turned from the truck and resumed his walk up to the fire. Yawning, he nodded to everyone, poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down heavily on a log. He looked a little paler than usual. He muttered, "Morning."
"Sleep OK?" I asked.
Shaking his head, yawning, and trying to nod all at once, he said, "Yeah. Lil' wonder, since I'd had a couple."
Laughing, Clem said, "You wer't t' only one."
"No, no, that's for sure. Some of these boys can really put it away," agreed Rich, taking another slug of coffee. He looked up at Stan and Dan. "Them, for example."
I heard the sound of Jerry's topper creaking open, turned to look. He dragged himself out to the tailgate, sat up unsteadily, looking more than a little green around the gills. I gestured to Rich. "Looks like Jerry didn't do too bad, himself."
Rich looked, smiled slightly. "Yup."
Clem laughed again. "There'll be worse. Jus' wait."
Sure enough, in the next hour most of the rest of the camp staggered out of their various sleeping places and wandered over to the fire in quest of coffee. Charlie kept the pot going, adding water and another handful of grounds whenever it got a little low. Jerry, moving slow and wearing his hat down low over his eyes, was barely in the running for being the worst off. And I got the impression that was only because he was more out of practice than a lot of these guys. Some of 'em only sat and tried to sip at their coffee long enough to fall back asleep, much to the amusement of everyone else. And one fellow got the heaves, losing it in the fire and almost falling in himself before someone grabbed him and dragged him off to the edge of the woods.
"Well, that's it," said Clem, getting up out of his chair. "No one wants t' sit here wit' th' stink o' roastin' puke. Let's break camp, boys."
There was a general muttering of agreement, mixed with moans of pain as some of the boys tried to get moving again. Me and Rich went down and took care of getting our gear together, packing up the little tent, and so forth. Jerry mostly just shoved his stuff into one corner of the pickup, making room for our stuff. As we were finishing Rich looked over the top of the truck up at the bus, said, "What the hell?"
I turned and looked, saw that Stan and Dan had gotten up out of their chairs, and, barely able to stand, were trying to fight. Several of the less hung-over guys were trying to keep them apart. I glanced at Rich. "Let's go see what happens!"
Rich started to say something, but I was already on my way up to the bus. Others had started to gather around, as well, and the small crowd had begun to move away from the bus. I got there just in time to hear Matt say, "Whadda ya fightin' 'bout?"
Leaning unsteadily away from the man who held him, Dan looked at Matt a long time, trying to get his eyes to focus. Sloppily, spitting as he spoke, he said "Imma better hunner 'n 'e is."
"I kick yer ass," said Stan, trying to pull away from Kenny, who held him solidly by the upper arms. "Ev'one knows I's better. I always get more deer n' you."
Dan, shrugging off restraint, stepped forward and pointed shakily at the hat that Stan was wearing. "I kin shoot that deer."
Stan, blinking uncomprehendingly for moment, pulled off his green John Deere cap. There was a deer on a button on the front, no larger than a typical shirt button. I hadn't even noticed it.
"Shit, this I gotta see," said Matt. He turned to someone, "Go get his gun."
For a moment I thought he was going to let Dan kill Stan. Even the idea of putting a gun in the hands of this slobbering drunk scared the hell out of me. I looked at Rich, who had come up behind me, and who was now completely drained of color. But before I could say anything to him, or him to me, the fellow Matt sent returned with Dan's rifle.
Matt grabbed the hat from Stan, said, "Follow me."
We followed, people helping the two drunks, a short distance away from the bus. Matt stopped, looked around. "Stay here."
Everyone stopped, watched Matt as he calmly walked down the road about 50 yards and set the green cap in the fork of a tree. I could barely make out the hat at that distance, since it was partially hidden in shadow. Matt walked back to the crowd. "Give him the rifle."
Rich grabbed me and pulled me back as much out of the way as possible. I didn't need much encouragement, but both of us couldn't help but stay there and watch what happened. Dan took the 30-30, stumbled over to a fair sized tree, and parked himself against it. He racked a round into the chamber, then raised the gun, the barrel wavering but pointing down the road. He stood there for a second, then brought the gun down, shook his head.
"Tol' ya. He can't do it," said Stan.
"Fuck you," muttered Dan, pulling his own cap off and throwing it at Stan. Then turning back down the road, he raised the rifle again, and with barely a pause to lean against the tree to steady himself, fired.
I swear to God that the hat lept from the tree, some 50 yards away.
"Son of a bitch," muttered Rich, beside me.
A whoop went up. As Matt jogged down the road to retrieve the hat, Dan turned to Stan, smiled a drunken smile. "Lemme see you do it."
Matt just then got back with the hat, and handed it over for others to see and pass around as he shook his head unbelieving. The button was gone from the front of the hat, leaving only a ragged hole where it had been punched through the fabric. There was also an exit hole in the back, just above the adjustable band.
Dan no longer had the rifle. Taking the green hat, he put it on his head, staggered over to his brother. Pointing at his own black hat laying in the road, he repeated, "Lemme see you do it."
Stan reached down and picked up the hat, almost tumbling over in the process. He looked at it, looked at his own hat now on Dan's head. He put on the black cap. "I's still a better hunter 'n you is."
But then he smiled, said, "But maybe you's a better shot."
A little while later, most of the camp was packed up, which consisted mostly of just shoving things in vehicles, and we were waiting for Jerry to come back to the truck. He came down the hill from the bus, came over to us and said to Rich, "Say, th' old man wants me to come over to th' house, visit with th' women folk a bit. You don't mind, do ya? They'll have food and everything for us. We'll only stay a little while."
Rich glanced at me. "Um, no, that's fine. But let's not stay too long, OK?"
Jerry nodded, and we got in the truck to leave. But before he started the engine, Matt came around to his side of the truck. Jerry got out for a moment, chatted with Matt in low tones. Then he opened his door, and with Matt still standing there, asked Rich, "Say, you wouldn't mind driving one of the boy's cars back over to my uncle's place, would you?"
Matt stuck his head around Jerry. "Some of th' boys ain' in no shape t' drive."
Rich nodded, said, "Yeah, I can believe that."
"Hard t' drive when yer pukin' or passed out," said Matt. "We'd 'preciate it."
"Yeah," said Rich, getting out of the truck. He looked at me. "Um, you wanna come with me, James?"
"This way," said Matt, when we came around the truck. He led us up the hill and past the bus, to where there were several cars and trucks waiting. Each one looked to be in worse shape than the one next to it.
"Which one?" asked Rich.
Matt pointed to the closest of the lot. It was hard to tell what the car had been originally. A Chevy Impala would've been my guess, from the basic body shape. But things had been done to it. Things that oughtn't be done. Unnatural things. Like trying to make it into a convertible, without the benefit of clergy nor real Chevy parts. What was stuck on the car after the original top had been cut away was the rag roof of some other model or make car. It almost fit. There was no hood. It had probably been removed to allow installation of the huge carb/air-injector thingee that stuck way up out of the engine compartment. The whole car sat maybe a foot higher than it should've. And, of course, it looked like it had been painted by a couple of toddlers with spray cans.
Matt said, "This's Junior's."
"Uh, sure," said Rich.
"Jus' drive it t' Charlie's, OK?
"Uh, sure. Where's that?"
"Jus' follow us."
"Yeah. But . . ."
Matt had already headed towards one of the battered pickups. Before we even got in Junior's car, the Hoopie roared to life and went rumbling past. The bus followed it. Other cars, jeeps, and trucks started up and were moving as we scrambled to get into Junior's car.
Inside was even more frightening that outside. The front seats were a couple of bucket seats from a different car, crudely welded into place, with no way to adjust their position. Rich is a big guy, stands about 6'4", and I bet Junior was a good six inches shorter, given how Rich had to scrunch up in order to sit behind the wheel. There were no seats in back, just a stack of spare tires, most of them bald or even flat. Automatically, I reached for the seat belt. Hah! Rich went to start the car, was confronted with a screwdriver sticking out of the ignition. Shaking his head, he grasped the handle of the screwdriver and gave it a twist. The engine coughed, then caught. Looking at me, Rich just rolled his eyes, then grabbed the stick shift sticking up out of the floor through a ragged hole between our seats, and put the car in gear.
By this time, most of the other vehicles had already left the clearing and had disappeared down the fire road. Rich followed the last car out, trying to navigate the Chevy through the ruts and rough spots best he could, given that it was almost impossible to see past the monstrous carburetor. "Jesus! This is fuckin' unbelievable."
We both about bounced out of our seats. I thought my head was going to go through the ragtop. "Um, what is?"
Rich laughed, a nervous yet sarcastic laugh. "Good one, James. I guess this just fits in with the whole fuckin' unbelievable weekend, doesn't it?"
The engine screamed as we hit another rut and the rear end lost traction for a second. Rich was trying to keep the car in front of us in sight. "Man, I've known rednecks before. Been huntin' with a few of 'em. But these guys . . ." He paused, chanced a glance at me. "Hell, James, your dad, what with bein' a cop and all, knew some real characters. He once described someone to me as a 'slope-headed Ozark stump-jumper.' I about spit my beer out when he said that. Well, that's what these idiots are. Slope-headed Potosi stump-jumpers. Jesus."
We came up to the blacktop, and saw a couple of cars from our group disappearing to the left. Rich followed, shifting gears and pushing the Chevy. Muttering, he looked at the dashboard. "No surprise, doesn't look like any of the instruments work. Christ on a stick."
I just held on. The car seemed to handle the road pretty well, but had a tendency to sway disturbingly on the curves. We came to another blacktop, followed the last car in the line to the right and a short time later went through some nameless small town. Just over the hill past that town I felt the car shimmy and Rich hit the brakes, slowed us down and pulled off to the side. I asked "What's wrong?"
"Flat. One of the rear tires, I'd bet." Rich turned red. "Dammit."
"Well, we've got plenty of tires, I said, pointing to the pile behind us."
Rich looked at me like I was nuts. "Yeah, but did you see a jack?"
"Maybe in the trunk?"
"I don't have a key to the trunk. All I've got is a goddamn screwdriver. And it's stuck in the goddamn ignition."
We got out. Rich went around back to see if there was some way to open the trunk. I opened the back door, looked around the tires as much as I could. Slamming his fist on the trunk lid in disgust, Rich came around to my side of the car. "Any luck?"
"Nah. Let me see if I can shift a couple of these, look into the trunk." I did that, and partly climbed into the back seat to get a better look.
I squinted. "Can't see much, there isn't any light. But it looks like all that's back there is more tires and a bunch of batteries."
"Batteries?" asked Rich.
"Uh, yeah, car batteries." I pulled myself back out of the car. "Sorry."
"Not your fault." Rich shook his head, sighing. "Un-fucking-believable."
I looked around. "Hey, isn't that Matt in that pickup?"
Rich looked, but didn't have a chance to say anything before the pickup pulled off the road in front of us. Matt got out and started walking towards us. "Wha' happen'd?"
Rich looked at me, and I could tell he was about ready to strangle Matt. But he just said, "Flat."
Matt nodded, and turned around, heading for his truck. For a moment I thought he was just going to get in and leave. But he reached into the bed of the truck and came out with a tractor jack and a 4-way tire iron. In short order we had the car jacked up, and found a tire in the back seat that still had air and the right lug pattern to fit on the Chevy. As he let the car back down, Matt said, "Sorry 'bout that. Well, ain' much further."
"Hey, uh, how about some directions?" asked Rich.
Matt scratched his head, "Well, take th' firs' gravel up here t' th' right, then th' firs' dirt road. Go over th' tracks an' you're there."
"If'n you don' show up 'n a bit, I'll come lookin'."
Matt got in his truck and took off. We got back in the Chevy, Rich just shaking his head. The first gravel road wasn't far, and we turned onto it. The dirt road leading off it had a hand painted sign that just said "JUNKYARD." We went that way, and before long we were driving along a railroad embankment on our left that was a good ten or twelve feet higher than the road, with a runoff ditch between. After a couple hundred yards of this, the road turned sharply left, down the ditch and up the embankment.
Rich paused, put the car in low. We went down, and the higher ground clearance meant that we didn't get stuck in the ditch. Up the other side, and the car died just as we cleared the top, straddling the railroad tracks. Rich tried to start the engine, but nothing happened when he twisted the handle of the screwdriver. Rich looked at me. I looked at Rich.
We got out of the car. Rich looked the situation over. The road went down the other side of the embankment and into a large junkyard which had heretofore been shielded from us. There, in the center, was a pile of buildings. "Fuck it," he said. "They want the goddamn car, they can come get it."
I wondered about the wisdom of leaving a car on the tracks. "Uh, what if a train comes along?"
"Out here? On a Sunday?" Rich shook his head. "Little chance of that, I'd say. But we'll go tell them, they’ll know how often the train comes through. Not much we can do about it."
So, we proceeded down to the junkyard and towards the pile of buildings. It was kind of hard to tell where the junk ended and the buildings began, as stuff was leaning against walls, parts of old house trailers were incorporated into the compound, et cetera. A large black dog came bounding up to us, scattering a handful of chickens, who made a racket announcing our arrival. Matt stuck his head out the door, from which poured a cloud of cigarette smoke. "Didn' hear ya pull up."
"Car's up there on the tracks," said Rich, hiking his thumb back over his shoulder.
Matt leaned out the door, squinted up to the embankment. "Huh."
"It died," I said, trying to be helpful.
Matt stuck his head back inside a moment, and barked something. Then turning to us, said, "C'mon 'n, supper's on th' table."
Rich started towards the door. I told him as he passed me, "I think I'll just stay out here."
"Doncha wan' somethin' t' eat?" asked Matt.
"Uh, I'm fine, thanks."
"Suit yerself," said Matt, and then disappeared inside.
Pausing before going in, Rich looked at me, nodded. "I'll see if I can get Jerry so we can get going."
I poked around the junkyard a while, playing with the dog, throwing things at the chickens (with no real intent to hit them), listening to roars of laughter coming from inside the 'house.' I watched a couple of the guys come out, fire up a large tow truck, and go fetch Junior's car, laughing all the way. I got into the back of Jerry's pickup, into our cooler and had a soda and a sandwich, sitting there on the tailgate, enjoying a bit of solitude. Finally, after what seemed hours but was probably only thirty or forty minutes, Rich and Jerry came out, each of them carrying a sack. They put the sacks down on the tailgate, and started stuffing the contents into our coolers.
"What's that?" I asked.
"Deersteaks," said Jerry.
"And sausage," added Rich.
"But how . . ."
"Frozen," said Rich.
"From an earlier hunt," said Jerry, finishing up and going around to the passenger's side.
"Probably illegal as all hell," added Rich. "But they insisted, thanking us for helping with the drive yesterday."
"You shoulda come in, James. Food was real good."
I shrugged. "Had enough."
Rich nodded. "Let's go home. I told Jerry I'd drive, since he's pretty badly hung over."
"Sounds good to me."
all work © James T. Downey, 1993-2006
photos © Martha K. John, 1994-2006
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