Tuesday, January 16, 2018

193 -195

cool breeze bends brown grass,
pack watches flock from high hill,
waiting their time

the pack fears the dogs
who guard the defenseless flock,
shepherd sleeps

bare limbs wave at sky,
pack peers through trees and wait,
the sheep rest in peace

Monday, January 15, 2018

Big ASS Awards Banquet

Big ASS Awards Banquet
by Jay Unver

(Lehrton, Mississippi) The stars showed up for the biggest event Lehrton, Mississippi has seen since Jim Bob Duggan won the 'Possum Eatin' contest at City Park in 1975. The new event was the 2017 Big ASS Awards Banquet Saturday night at the association's training center in the downtown of this delightful delta hamlet. Valet parking, a real red strip of indoor/outdoor carpet, two photographers, and a dozen screaming fans made for an excitement that could be felt. 

While the red-carpeters arrived, Jim Bob shot a shotgun every time one of the athletes slipped out the door of his auto and handed the wheel to Jason Nason who parked the cars and pickup trucks in the Big ASS parking lot. The rest of the Barber Shop served as the Color Guard and marched in with pride and pomp ahead of the athletes and posted the Confederate Battle Flag at the podium while the Lehrton City Band played the national anthem in several tunes and keys.

Dr. Nomann welcomed the crowd, said a prayer, and the food was served: gormet hot dogs, fantastic fries, and fried apple pies were washed down with RC Colas and sweet tea. The banqueters must have thought they had died and gone to heaven. Although I was there as a journalist, I nabbed a passing hot dog and wolfed it down before I needed to jot some additional notes. It was a fine wiener with slaw and a yellow mustard sauce. I wanted another, but shortly the ceremony started and that left my stomach growling and my eyes prowling.

The long wooden tables, as usual, were covered with newspapers, old editions of the Lehrton Gazette, only this time they only used the sports sections. How did they save that many copies? To be expected, most of the sports news in this town is Big ASS Endurance, its events, its athletes, its plans. Of course, there was the unfortunate trial and punishment of Zane Hodge early in 2017, so his picture adorned the top of almost every table. 

Hodge was there with his lovely wife, Penny, and seated in the visitors section was Team Centerville: Gerald and Debbie Johnson, Sheila Mitchell, Trevor and Kasey McLean, and Gerry Johnson. Randy Beets and his girlfriend Robin were in attendance via Skype, a fact that seemed to irritate Hodge who kept finding reasons to rise from his seat and walk past the laptop screen while picking his nose.
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Award winner MJ Staples witnessing the start of Chicot VI.

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Award winning boat captain, Gerald Johnson.
When the award ceremony proper began, Hodge sat on the edge of his seat, eager, no doubt, to experience the ratification of his world record swim which occurred one day after his suspension expired. When that time came, Hodge was called to the podium to receive his trophy. The new record upped Hodge's previous best one day, nonstop swim from 22.3 to 23.5 miles. The crowd gave thunderous applause while some members of Team Centerville wept. 

MJ Staples won the best Official Observer award for her rookie work documenting Hodge's Chicot Challenge. Dr. Nomann remarked that her notes on Hodge's swim were "a model of how it's done."

Justin Nunnery and Gerald Johnson, captains for the Challenge, each won co-boat captain of the year.

Shay Darby received both Rookie of the Year as well as being named Triathlon Team World Champion for his performance at the Heart O' Dixie Triathlon.

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World Team Tri Champion, Shay Darby at the HOD.
Randy Beets was awarded nothing, recognized for nothing, mentioned for nothing. Hodge kept glancing toward the laptop and easing his trophy closer and closer toward Beets' line of sight.

Sheila Mitchell and Gerry Johnson were recognized for their outstanding first time kayak work at the world record Chicot swim, and for the first time ever, Nomann took time to recognize a couple of the Association's newest signees. Wilson Carroll, 58, and his son Spence, 12, were asked to stand. Spence was, Nomann told the crowd, the youngest athlete the Association had ever inked. Although he did not say so, some were speculating that the Carroll duo were destined to take Hodge's place in the Chicot Challenge. After the event when I asked Carroll if he and his son intended to swim the Chicot, he simple said, "No comment."
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Spence Carroll, the youngest Big ASS signee in history.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Up the Road

Up the Road
By Zane Hodge
        I never met one who could run worth a durn. In fact, they don’t run at all except when they’re little. But when they get big, they just don’t do it. He was the only one I ever knew who even tried.
        He came trotting up the road like a big toad frog that had been bit too many times. It was pitiful, but at least he was trying. I came out in the road and at first he acted like he was afraid of me. I never understood them that way. How can they be afraid of me?
        His fear went away, but I could tell he didn’t want me along. I went anyway. I’m glad I did because not far up the road where all the trees start, I started having the best time. And the big hill, you should have seen him trying to run up that thing. I didn’t think he would make it. At the top, he was making a lot of mouth noise, and I thought he might fall down.
        When we got to the other road, I started feeling strange, out of place and far from home. I don’t know why, but I thought about Momma and how she might be worried about me. He even told me to go home, so I did. I turned around and ran all the way back to Momma’s box.

        It was a long time before I saw him again. Meanwhile, I had grown up, but he was about the same-- he still couldn’t run. This time when I came out in the road, he smiled a little. But he was afraid, only I could tell it was not me he feared; he feared something up the road. I could feel it. He feared going up the road in the dark.
        They are like that. My mom and dad fear the dark and never get out of their box at night unless it is to get in their running box. I think it’s because they can’t see. They are almost blind when the sun goes down, and they never go around without some kind of shine. He had a little shine coming out of his head, but it wasn’t much, not like a running box shine.
          I could feel his fear go down when I stayed with him a little while. Then we got to the tress where all the smells are, and we went up the hill. He was still pitiful on that hill. I was afraid he might fall down and roll to the bottom. Why did he do it? I guess he just didn’t have a running box.
        I also noticed how if I stayed out ahead of him very long, he would make that sound with his mouth. For some reason, when he made that sound, I would always come back, and I could feel his fear going down as I drew near. He even spoke words to me. “Stay close,” he said. I liked that, and I stayed close. He needed me. He was afraid when I was far and happy when I was close. That made me happy. We were a team.
        We went up the road together a long way until he turned in at another box. I stopped in the road and watched him. He stopped trying to run and walked up the little road to the box and he went inside. He looked back at me a long time before going inside. He was thankful, I could tell. He didn’t need me now that he was at the other box, so I went home.
        He came back a few days later still trying to run, but he had not gotten any better. He looked like he was trying to stomp flies, but even a sick fly could get out of his way. I was so happy to see him that I ran out fast and crashed into him and almost knocked him over. He didn’t even get mad at me, but he smiled real big and said, “Hey boy.” That made me feel good.
        We went up the road together.
        He was not afraid, maybe because the sun had not gone down. Since he was not afraid, I felt free to run off the road some when we got to all the trees where the smells are. I sniffed a lot. There are so many smells in the trees that it drives me crazy.
        He stomped up the hill.
        I sniffed and emptied and peed on stuff.
        On the other road, some running boxes came by. Now I knew to get out of the way and go into the trees. He liked that. We went further up the road, and I heard somebody like me warning us to stay away from their box. I felt uneasy, but he told me to stay close. I liked that. I protect him in the dark; he protects me in the light. We are a team.
        We went all the way to the other box. He went inside. I went home.

        He came by again and we went up the road. We went by the trees and I sniffed and peed on stuff. We went up the hill. I ran by him like he was a rock. I didn’t care if he couldn’t run. I hoped he knew I didn’t care that he couldn’t do nothing. I just liked being with him. We had fun.

        Then he quit coming by. It’s been a long time. Now, I mostly just lie around in the yard and wonder when he’s coming back. Why is he waiting? Is he ok? Does he think he has to run like me? Doesn’t he want to be a team anymore? I just want to see him and hear that clicking sound coming from his mouth. I spend my days being sad and looking down the road and wondering when he’s coming back. When he does, I’ll be here and we’ll be a team and we’ll go up the road together.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Ray 4

I was ten-years old when Dad went to see the Carroll County sheriff at the courthouse in Carrollton. His name was Nunley, but I don't remember the first name, not having written it down. In my notebook, I refer to him as Sheriff Nunley. I do remember that his name started with an "L" I think. Something like Lagoon but I know that's not it. Nobody would be named Lagoon although some people are named Colin. Lagrone, it was Lagrone. Wow, it just came to me. Lagrone Nunley.

He had a picture in his office, hanging on the wall, of himself and his son receiving an award for their Sunday School attendance so I know he was a church goer, and I would think he would tell the truth being a sheriff and a church man to boot. He told Dad almost the same thing Roy Sims did, that he remembered Ray from way back and so did the sheriff's dad. In fact, he told us that his grandfather said the same thing, that Ray was around looking just like he looked then when Lagrone Nunley's granddad was a boy. 

I also remember the sheriff saying that his daddy never told a lie in his life, but he wasn't so sure about his granddad, not because he was an untruthful person but because he was getting pretty old and was often confused and may have "disrembered." Disremembered. I wrote that one down and later tried to find it in Websters. I was a smart aleck like that. I loved to catch grown ups in mistakes, although I never said anything to them directly. I was too shy and too respectful for that. But I loved to brag to Mom and Dad on how Mr. So and So got it wrong, used an incorrect word.

He, the sheriff, also told us that they used to arrest Ray every time he came to town. They did it, he said, partly to keep him out of trouble, because he fought a lot, and partly so they could feed him and give him a warm place to sleep at night. As far as the adverse possession went, he could do nothing. "I can bluff him," he said, "but legally, I can't do nothin'." That was the last time Dad tried to do anything about Ray, as far as I know. If he tried other ways to get rid of Ray, I never said anything about it in front of me.

So Ray was just around, and we would sometimes see his boot tracks in the gully when we bird hunted. That always pissed Dad but we almost never saw him. Now and then, we would drive by him while he walked along Humphrey Highway or the gravel road. Just the sight of him made me afraid, and I asked Dad if he could whip him if they ever got into a fight. Dad said he could, and a boy wants to believe his dad can whip the whole world. But I wondered. He wore leather boots, jeans, and some kind of light denim jacket. He always seemed to be wearing the same thing winter or summer, and he always looked the same.

Slowly, the mysteriousness and frightfulness of Ray grew until he was a virtual monster in my mind. David Pentecost, who lived two doors down from us on West Harding Street, had a grandfather that used to visit them and he always stayed for a few weeks. I think he traveled from child to child and stayed with each one a while like my grandmother did the last years of her life. Mr. Shute and I would sit under an oak tree in the Pentecosts' front yard and chew tobacco and talk about hunting, squirrel hunting mostly. One day when I was fourteen, Ray came up. Mr. Shute, who had to be eighty years old if a day, said he, like everybody else, remembered Ray from way back and that he looked the same now as back then. The old man had farmed and raised his family in the Coila area which he told me had a lot more people in it then than now. That surprised me because I assumed that towns and areas always got bigger and never smaller. I never thought of a town dying or an area having less people although it should not have surprised me because I watched all the cowboy flicks and they often had ghost towns in them.

Anyway, Mr. Shute told me all sorts of stuff. He told me about the tornado that destroyed his house, injured his whole family, and killed one of his kids. He himself woke up in a field with a broken leg. He told me how lively downtown Coila was back then. He told me about a man who got his head chopped off. The de-headed man was wearing a white button down shirt under his clean overalls and there was only a drop or two of blood on the shirt. Mr. Shute saw it himself. I asked him why, and he didn't know. I asked him if the murderer was ever caught and he said no. I asked him if he had suspicions on anybody and he said everybody did. Then he dropped the bombshell. He said they were all sure who did it but there was no proof. "It was Ray," he said. "That devil man Ray Azel."

Monday, January 8, 2018

Gun Shoots Make Happy

Gun Shoots Make Happy
By Jay Unver

(Lehrton, Mississippi) The little town of Lehrton, Mississippi was abuzz with visible and palpable activity and excitement Wednesday morning ahead of Saturday night's Big ASS Awards Banquet. The annual event honors the achievements of the Association's top athletes, and is enthusiastically embraced by the entire town since moving here from Brazil, Mississippi three years ago. This year, however, will the the first time the banquet will be held in the Training Center. The 2016 banquet was held at the old Lehrton Cotton Warehouse building and the year before it was hosted by the Lehrton Opera House.

I drove past the headquarters to see if I could detect any preparations. In front of the Big ASS Training Center, I spied an old man was raking leaves, despite the bitter cold, and a young girl was taping balloons around the building's doorway. Next, I drove to City Hall where I caught up with Mayor Khabib to get his comments on the upcoming festivities. 

"We berry berry sited," he spoke in his thick Arabic accent. "We clean up town. We no have budget for fireworks, so citizens bring shotguns. Just like New Year. Many shotguns, much shooting. Only this time we ask not to shoot street lights."

"So you had street lights shot out at New Year's?" I asked.

"Street lights, stop signs, police cars. Citizens gets sited and shoots eberyting."

"But you are still allowing guns shooting in town Saturday night?"

"Yes. We want bisitors beel sabe and be happy. Gun shoots make happy."

"Gun shoots make happy. There's my headline."

"You like. We like people like," the mayor replied with a big smile on his face.

Shish Khabib went on the tell me that the town's only motel is at full capacity with all ten rooms sold out for the weekend, up from the usual one to two rooms rented and that the Lehrton Cafe is hiring extra staff to handle the expected uptick in business. Additionally, Mayor Khabib asked me to mention Jim Bob's Barber Shop. "He cut hairs berry good. Berry good. Come to Lehrton bor banquet, bor gun shoots, bor eats, bor hairs cut."

Come indeed. Tickets can be purchased at City Hall, the Lehrton Barbor Shop, or at the Big ASS Training Center for a nominal $10. And if you can't come, not to fear. You can zoom in on Facebook Live, and within a day or two I will have a comprehensive article in the Lehrton Gazette. This one promises to a doozy, and Dr. Nomann has relentlessly promoted the event on Facebook, in the Gazette, and in the monthly Lehrton County Squirrel Dog magazine. Since Hodge is expected to receive numerous awards, the town is sure to turn out. Despite his age and his loss of dominance, Hodge remains an extremely popular athlete in this small delta town. 

Thursday, January 4, 2018

190 - 192

delta fields lie bare,
dead animals dot roadside,
green sprouts along ditch.

bright sun warms brown ground,
cotton stalks wave in silence,
birds rejoice

scattered flock,
border collie works,
order restored

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Ray 3

In 1966, when I was eight-years old, Dad bought 160 acres in the hills outside of Greenwood, Mississippi. It was only later he learned that on Steen Hill Road, which ran through his land, sat a little log cabin that straddled his north-east property line. That is where his and my obsession with Ray Azel began. 

Dad talked to everyone who would listen about his problem. He talked to his Carroll County neighbors, he talked to a lawyer, and he even once had a long sit down with the sheriff of Carroll County. I remember him talking on the phone to a lawyer and that is when I began to fear Ray because the term "adverse possession" was used over and over. I was only eight and didn't know the law then and now, fifty-three years later, I still don't know the law. But at the time, I thought they were talking about demons or something involving a Ouija board. So I would go to bed most nights and imagine Ray out there on Steen Hill sacrificing goats, drinking blood, and worshiping the devil. That's how I come to be so afraid of him, that and all the stuff I heard over the years. After that, the mere mention of his name made my heart race with fear and trembling.

One day on our way to go bird hunting, Dad stopped the truck to talk to Ellis Roberts whose daughter I later married. Ellis owned (and still does) Hillbilly Heaven, 300 acres about one mile from Hodge Ski Lodge. Yes, they discussed Ray. Ellis said he knew an old man who swore he knew Ray when he (the old man) was a little boy. And he was not the only one who said stuff such as that. Word was that Ray has been living on Steen Road as long as anyone and his daddy could remember. 

We went to see the old man, Roy Sims, who lived not far from where the gravel road that Hodge Ski Lodge and Hillbilly Heaven are on joins Humphrey Highway. We went to his house and heard his story with our own ears. Roy Sims, who claimed to be eighty-eight years old at the time, said he started deer hunting Steen Hill Road with his dad when he was a mere boy of ten. Ray Azel was there then and according the Mr. Sims, "He looked exactly like he looks now. I seen him over the years and he ain't never changed not none."

Yes, that is a direct quotation, and I know what you are thinking. But when you hear something that outlandish, whether you believe it or not, you don't forget. Not only that, but Mom had given me a little 5 X 8 notebook for Christmas the year before. I think I was supposed to write my school assignments in it, but of course I never used it for that. Instead, that little book slowly came to contain a fifty page collection of hand drawn Cooties, hunting records (I killed five squirrels with a .410 shotgun in 1966), and information about Ray. Yeah, I wrote stuff down from the tender age of eight, and I still remember that old man standing at the open window of Dad's pick up truck, smoking an unfiltered camel cigarette, and telling us this as if it were the gospel truth. Even then, I had my doubts, but I wrote down nonetheless and I wrote a whole lot of everything I heard. I still go back and read some of those old, yellowing, journal entries from my early boyhood. I have those words in quotation marks, and I read then again just yesterday. 

To answer your next question, no, I did not make good grades in English or any other subjects for that matter. I never liked school much until I grew up. Although I did not score well on my English tests, my teachers always liked my writing even when I made Fs in their classes. Once, in high school, one of my English teachers (I think we had two that year) walked up to me and said, "We think you have talent in writing." And then she walked away as if that mere announcement would make the difference, would turn me into the student I could have been, should have been. It didn't work. I was too stupid for that to work. I needed guidance, not an announcement, but an announcement was all I received.

But I wrote from an early age, and Mom seeing me utilize the notebook bought me others and gave me re-filler paper and pencils and I even had a fountain pen which I used to stick to the back of my schoolmates shirts and make big ink blobs that never washed out. She gave me these things even when it wasn't Christmas or my birthday. Slowly that one notebook became two, then three, then twelve. 

While I was still new at the writing stuff, I became suspicious that Mom was reading my writing while I was at school. To find out if she was, I started a new notebook and on the first page I wrote:

    doo doo
    pee pee

Boy did I get in trouble for that. But at least I knew. The odd thing about all of that was Mom wanted to know how I knew how to spell "doo doo" and "pee pee." "Gee, Mom," I said, "I go to school."

I'll tell you some more stuff later. Write now (yeah, just checking if you are still paying attention) I need a refill of coffee, and I feel the urge to finish a novel I started last week. Don't worry, I ain't gunna forget anything because I have my notebooks. The question I struggle with is how much to tell.

Next time I think I'll tell you what the sheriff had to say when we went to see him.