|Sometimes you just get lucky. |
I ran out of gas in Paiper Machet, Louisiana, on my way to a convention for freelance bumper sticker writers. My "Watch Out For The Idiot Behind Me" had become an industry classic and I was to be the keynote speaker.
This was in the days before there was an all-night convenience store with self-service gas pumps on every corner. There was one gas station in Paiper Machet and it would not open until 7:30 the following morning. That would get me to the convention thirty minutes into late registration, provided my luck held out and my tires held air.
After I shut off my headlights, the only other illumination in this little corner of the bayou was a thin ribbon of green and red, riding a greasy fog that I traced back to a juke joint just over the tracks.
As I drew closer, the smell of bar-b-q sang like a Siren in my brain and hastened my apprehensive footsteps.
The creaking door betrayed my attempt at a quick, clandestine peek at the place. All eyes rolled in my direction. It was readily apparent that these good people were not accustomed to seeing an apologetic grin wearing a Hawaiian shirt and moccasins.
Relying on raw survival instinct, I sought out the bartender. That gave me an excuse to turn my back on the somnambulant stares of the stoned citizenry, but there they were again in the huge, spotless mirror. They had me surrounded.
I knew how to feign fortitude and present myself as a cool customer. After all, I was a keynote speaker, for cryin out loud. My body was inexplicably overtaken by the spirit of what sounded like Zippy the Pinhead on helium as I eked out, "Ya’ll got ‘nee beer?" I cast quick, accusatory glances around the room, trying to pin down the offending Voodoo Queen.
The barkeep silently drew a tall glass of Jax beer and sat it in front of me. I put a five on the bar. He put it in the cigar box that served as a cash drawer and flipped the lid shut. The ghost of Barney Fife politely inquired about my change.
"Oh, is there to be entertainment?" (Kermit The Frog)
Was there to be entertainment? Were there to be alligator dreams tangled in the Spanish moss long about four a.m.? Entertainment? Oh, yes. Yes, indeed. Tonight, at this inauspicious watering hole, just north of who-flung-the-chunk, and due west of Bum Fox, Egypt, there was to be entertainment. Blues legend, Blind Lemon Furniture Polish was to give his farewell performance.
I may have looked and acted like a total dork, but I knew my Blues. I knew what this event meant and I silently thanked God for allowing me to be present on this, this night of nights.
My eyes adjusted to the dark and revealed a most welcome site: Danny Aykroid sitting in a corner booth, gnawing on a possum sandwich (or was it beaver?). I caught his eye and waved, probably a little too enthusiastically. He quickly looked away, his eyes darting down and right, pretending not to know me—which, of course, he doesn’t.
A crisp harmonica fanfare drew our attention to the wide, low stack of wooden R.C. Cola cases.
If I live to be a hundred—which Blind Lemon had accomplished a decade ago—I’ll never forget the leathery majesty of the man who slowly mounted the makeshift stage. It was dangerous to cram that much dignity into so cheap a suit. He only did one song that night. If you know your Blues, you know which one. His signature song.
The languid lids lowered over haunted, eyes—eyes that had looked out over a century of sadness, heartbreak, and futility. The lids crept open, revealing happy eyes that had experienced merriment and a defiant victory in spite of it all.
Nothing was forced from the diaphragm; he just opened his mouth and the words fell out—like a trusty mule that knows its way home when the rider is too drunk, or when it’s too dark to see. Words as familiar to the Blues aficionado as "The Star Spangled Banner" is to a Boy Scout:
My woman is a cyclone: Lawd, she blew me to my knees.
There go the neighborhood, my heart, and the magnolia trees.
As soon as I fell, she got downgraded to a tropical breeze.
My lady, she the sunshine: she warms me with a life-givin ray.
She too hot to handle, and Lawd, I used to like it that way.
But she never went down, and baked me hard as a ceramic ashtray.
Weather Woman—the prognosticators ain’t got a clue.
Nobody can affect my pressure and dew point like you do.
Unseasonably spiteful (HEY!), indescribably delightful (YEAH!),
Cool breeze summer night-ful (HAH!) stentorian and frightful (WOO!)
It’s clear a storm is startin to brew.
My baby is a sandstorm; my soul is a wild tumbleweed.
Our love, a towering windmill, supplyin all the power we need.
But she sho screwed up my paintjob—she gritted up my nitty, indeed.
My Mama is a monsoon, WAW! she soak her man to the core.
Replenishin the river ‘till the banks shake, rattle, and roar.
Then she flooded my house, leavin snakes and mud all over the floor.
I never made it to the convention. Somehow, after what I’d witnessed, it just seemed pointless and stupid. Kind of like this story. I’m working for Aykroid now; I’m assistant manager at one of his Danny’s Dixie Possum (or is it beaver?) franchises. And I have the paper hat to prove it—made it out of my college diploma. It just feels more like home somehow.
Yeah, sometimes you just get lucky.
About the Author
Tom Hale is a featured author on wizardboys.com. He writes mostly about New Age topics, but cannot take anything too seriously for too long.
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