International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Life Stories
Other Side of the River
Willie James wasn't a big guy in the way that some guys are scary
big, he was just big. Caldwell was scary big. An altercation in
the locker room after football practice touched the flash point
when Willie said, "Cal'wel, watch yo sef, dynamite come in
Willie flew like
a medicine ball across a bench whanging into a row of lockers, sounding
like a car crashing into a dumpster, Caldwell shouting, "Blow up
the fuck up, motha' fucka'!"
From time to time Coach would let me on the field. This happened on
the occasions when the Bulldogs were miles ahead or miles behind and
I couldn't do any damage, except to myself. Willie played center and
Caldwell's position was right guard. Frequently we used a quarterback
sneak, the two guards and the center would try to blast a hole through
the line of scrimmage allowing the ball carrier to run through for a
short-yard gain. When I was on the field Coach called this play, "The
Middle of the Oreo Cookie".
I wish I had Bertha blocking for me.
Bertha was bigger than Caldwell and Willie glued together. She sat at
her assigned desk on my first day at my new school wearing a new pair
of size 15 Converse All Stars. Bertha had two pairs, low tops and high
tops. Both pairs were white with blue stripes. Sometimes she'd wear
one low on the left and a high on the right. Or whatever. Nobody had
the heart or the balls to point it out to her. Her knees wouldn't fit
under her desk so her legs encircled the desk in front. There was a
pleasant musky smell about her. The class thought she was as harmless
as a lab puppy and dumb as an Indian River grapefruit. She fell in love
at the age of 18.
In Junior high school life was surfing, fishing rock and roll and lots
of drugs. Our older brothers would buy beer for us if we gave them the
money and half of the beer. We lived on the beach side of the Indian
River and could ride our bikes or walk to school. Now we took the bus
until we were old enough to drive and had saved enough cash for a car.
The Brevard County School Board didn't allow students or parents a choice
of school, we were bussed to Melbourne High School, a maelstrom of rednecks
from West Melbourne and blacks from South Melbourne; sort of a breeding
ground for inmates of a correctional institute. Armed Brevard County
deputy sheriffs would patrol the halls of Mel-High. We would skip showers
after PE and never went to the bathroom between classes or during lunch
hour. It was simply too dangerous, especially for the blonde beach girls
who were not only slapped around, but often left the bathroom with new,
much shorter hairstyles. If possible we never walked anywhere at school
in less than groups of four.
Every morning in homeroom my desk was bordered by a huge pair of legs
wearing a pair of white and blue All Stars belonging to a grinning,
friendly giant with a heart the size of Canada and minor learning disabilities.
Bertha was, as my grandfather would say, "Dumb like a fox".
We had two classes together, homeroom and Black Studies*, which was
after lunch and before PE. PE was best to have as your last class because
it was easy to skip out after role call and hitch a ride back to the
beach with one of the seniors and go surfing. Bertha soon sat behind
me in both classrooms.
My classmate would move her lips when she read, knew rudimentary arithmetic
and was still a sophomore having failed to pass the 10th grade twice
and 9th grade once. The rest of the class as well as the teachers treated
her as a large piece of oversized ambulatory furniture, a walking wardrobe.
My friends and I started helping her with her homework every day. She
started saving our white asses from getting kicked every day.
Bertha had a serene disposition, there wasn't a malicious cell in her
massive body* except when she saw a friend in peril or she wanted revenge.
My big friend could floor a 240 pound over testosteroned athlete with
one backhand swipe of an arm and would shoulder into an unequal and
often bloody fight like a tugboat into heavy surf to rescue a pair of
skinny scared sophomores caught in a bad place. One primordial bellow
from Bertha, "Yo leave those boys alone", still wakes some
of us in a shudder.
We had a six foot six 300 pound sister on our team.
Revenge is a dish best eaten cold. In our junior year Bertha and I were
fast friends to the hilarity and sometime consternation of both of our
families and neighborhoods. At school, tensions had reduced to a simmer,
riots were monthly and not daily. I had a second hand car, was on the
Junior Varsity football team and Bertha's grade point average had increased
to a "C". Dinners at their house in South Melbourne prepared
by Bertha and her mother were amazing. Fried mullet with grits, hog
jowls with collard greens, green tomato pie, fried chicken with mashed
potatoes and cream gravy, BBQ Boston butt, fresh grouper steamed in
pink grapefruit juice, green beans with bacon; I was a regular at their
table and accepted without comment.
Her father was a Reverend in a Baptist Church (no beer in the house,
her brothers, Leon and Jason and I drank on the back porch, joined frequently
by the Reverend), her mother worked at the hospital and the brothers
ran a commercial fishing boat. Bertha's family had a few concerns, though.
This white guy that was friends with their daughter was gonna get hurt
some day just by being in the wrong part of town and their daughter
was going to be hurt because this was a friendship that was going to
remain just that. Bertha had no romantic interest in anyone but this
white guy that she went to school with who certainly had no romantic
interest in her whatsoever. Bertha was just, well, Bertha and I just,
well, genuinely liked her.
It happened quick. There were four of them and a baseball bat. I was
leaving the house and unlocking the door to my car. The street lights
were out as usual. I came to in the hospital to the sound of the Reverend's
reverberations. He and his wife were there along with Leon, Jason, Bertha,
Willie, Caldwell, Coach, my mom and dad and my own brothers, Mark and
Jason. Full house, nothing broken. A few bruises, some stitches in the
back of the head, overnight in case there's a concussion and he's home
in the morning. Should be back to school in a 'coupla days or so. A
deputy sheriff stopped by and announced that they had apprehended the
perpetrators, 4 brothers, and they were being held in the Sheriff's
office and did my parents want to press charges. Dad said no, leave
it. Kid's stuff. The 4 boys lived with their father in a trailer and
weren't worth a civil suit. No money in it. Shake hands later and no
hard feelings. Put it down to the times.
A few months later, Willie, Caldwell, Bertha and I were heading out
to the cow-fields west of Cocoa on a Magic Mushroom Mission. We met
for breakfast well before dawn on Saturday at a restaurant in Melbourne
called Sambo's*, a bit of an inside joke, and then piled in the car
to go pick mushrooms.
*A word or two on Magic Mushrooms: Magic mushrooms must be gathered
in the early morning before the sun wilts them. Magic mushrooms contain
psilocybin and psilocin which are safer than LSD as they are organic.
We really believed that. Magic mushrooms are identifiable by a thin
bluish purplish band on the spindly stem under the small cap. Magic
mushrooms are free but you must be willing to risk being gored by a
bull, bit by a rattlesnake or shot by a redneck rancher for being the
wrong color, in the wrong place or being around same. I take that back..
Florida rednecks aren't biased. They'll shoot anyone on their land regardless
of race, color or creed and answer questions later if asked. Magic mushrooms
are illegal in the United States and we could be arrested for possession
of a controlled substance. Trespassing on private property is illegal
for which we could be arrested and then convicted of possession of a
controlled substance as well as trespassing on private property in possession
of a controlled substance. In addition, Bertha could be tried as an
adult for contributing to the delinquency of minors for all the above
charges multiplied by a factor of three minors. Magic mushrooms can
be used for cooking. A favorite recipe was spaghetti and magic mushroom
sauce with grated cheese. Magic mushrooms grow in cow shit. An evening
high on magic mushrooms is a lot of fun.
We parked the car on a side road off a local highway just before sunup,
crawled through the barbed wire fence, no easy feat for Bertha, and
made our way carefully and quietly through the fog filled palmettos
and pine forest to the edge of the cow-field. Aside from the northbound
traffic on I-95 there was nobody around, the cows hadn't been let out
yet or were in another field and it was too early for snakes to be active.
There was plenty of evidence of cows and loads of mushrooms, though.
Each cow patty looked like a mutant porcupine.
In 30 minutes the sun was up and we were headed back to the car carrying
a Hefty garbage bag stuffed with mushrooms when Caldwell stepped on
an indigo snake.
**A word about the indigo snake: They are purplish black and have a
dark blue, fading to white belly. A beautiful, fast and powerful killing
machine, indigos are not poisonous, however they are very very nasty
and a bite from one of any size is excruciatingly painful. An Indigo
snake will kill its prey by gripping the hapless creature in its fangs
and dashing it repeatedly against an ungiving object such as a tree
or a log, an enrapturing spectacle to watch, but not to participate
in. The largest indigo ever captured was just shy of 10 feet long.
The reaction of any biped, regardless of sex, color, race, creed or
nationality except for maybe one well missed Aussie bloke - stepping
on a huge black reptile with the girth of Bordeaux bottle is always
the same. The stepper screams in an ancient tongue heard since the beginning
of humanoid articulation starting with "AAAA", near the middle
there is a noticeable change in timbre to the "HHHH" sound
and at the end of this unfortunate but transfixing monologue switches
to a more modern utterance presumably from a precursor to middle German
that sounds like "Fuk!" The indigo, having no capacity for
vocalization except for "SSSS", and not happy with his impromptu
appointment as steppee, responded by hissing, writhing, coiling and
striking; actions performed with amazing acrobatics and in less than
a second had plunged its fangs into the crotch of Caldwell's Levis shaking
its head from side to side, provoking another louder recital of the
above. The snake's head was the size of a garden trowel.
Must have hurt like a motha' fucka' and I think I just borrowed something
from Tim Cahill.
Caldwell screamed again. Willie and I froze. Bertha dropped the trash
bag full of mushrooms, grabbed the snake just behind the head, squeezed
it on either side of the jaws and gently weaned it off Caldwell's dick
whereupon it wrapped itself around her upper arm, neck and torso. She
said in a calm voice with a hint of a smile, "Blue belly. Indigo
snake. Ain't poison. Big guy, tho'. You boys gimme another few a them
plastic bags. You be okay Caldwell."
Then she chuckled and inclined her head in my direction " Sheit,
nigga, you 'bout the same colah as whitey heah."
Spaghetti and Magic Mushroom Sauce
2 pounds ground meat; pork, beef or roadkill
2 _ pounds of magic mushrooms rinsed and chopped
Oil or margarine
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp onion powder
2 quarts of canned tomatoes
1 pound dry Spaghetti noodles
1 very large pissed off indigo snake stuffed in an old handbag. Don't
hurt it! It is innocent.Method:
Fry the meat and mushrooms in the oil or margarine in a big pot for
4-5 minutes and then add the
onion and garlic powder. Fry for a further 2 3 minutes. Add the
tomatoes and some salt and pepper if desired. Stir and simmer for 40
minutes or so. It's not really that important for the flavor, it simply
concentrates the active ingredients of the mushrooms to psychotic levels.
Chop and throw in a few more mushrooms if desired.
Cook the spaghetti 5 minutes longer than the package directions specify,
drain, cut into 1 inch long segments and glop together with the meat,
mushrooms and tomatoes a la Chef Boy-Ar-Dee. Give it a final stir and
deliver it as promised to your new friends living in the trailer to
further cement your new relationship.
Sit down for a quick but friendly chat about shooting rats at the county
dump or other topics.. Don't stay for dinner.
Psilocybin and psilocin, being organic, leave few traces. There is no
discernible half life to these natural drugs. The effects of a single
mushroom consumed on an empty stomach will start to be felt after around
ten minutes and the "high" will peak at 30 minutes, similar
to a wave breaking onshore and then slowly receding. During the peak,
sounds and colors become a little bit distorted, everything is laugh
out loud funny and mild hallucinations may occur. The after effects
can last for 3 5 hours and are mildly euphoric. Mushrooms can
be fun and nobody gets hurt.
In larger quantities of, let's say a half a pound per person, the psilocybin
and psilocin interact rather riotously with each other and a further
member of the cast, a neurotransmitter called tryptamine, will now enter
stage left in a major role instead of staying in the orchestra pit.
It's kinda like glugging a gallon of gasoline onto a burning BBQ. The
trio attack the senses and psyche as a triple tag-team, rapidly pummeling
the nerve centers into a quivering mass of reactive protoplasm, producing
distortions of time, distance, speed, as well as causing acute paranoia,
loss of sensation in extremities, chills, violent nausea and amazingly
turbulent vivid hallucinations. This called a "Really Bad Trip".
The good news is that, in normal circumstances, there are no after effects.
Lucidity returns in a day or so. Stay away from stressful circumstances
and keep away from knives and guns..
The bad news is that someone left a handbag in your trailer and your
phone is ringing.
Caldwell went to a university in Washington on a football scholarship,
played for the Washington Redskins, is now an attorney for the ACLU,
and lives in Seattle.
Willie is a Reverend with a flock of about 2000. We meet up every few
years and drink beer on his back porch with his two sons, Caldwell and
William. No beer is allowed in the house.
Bertha's size was too much for her heart and it let her down not too
long ago. She's now with her mom and dad, probably cooking something.
One day I hope she'll block for us.
© Bill Hedman September 2009
all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibility
- no liability accepted by hackwriters.com or affiliates.