Saturday, February 28, 2015

Advice Needed on Poot Story

I have something on my mind, and I need help. Maybe you can advise me. It's about a Poot story and how I should write it. Recently, I sat down at the computer and created a file of a whole bunch of Poot stories I need to write. The one I'm about to tell you did not make the list.

This Poot story wasn't on the list because it didn't involve us having "fun." Not only that, but I've lost all the details. Maybe I lost the details because it wasn't "fun" so it wasn't something I have thought about a lot thus keeping the memory vivid. I have thought about it from time to time, but not too often because it always makes me sad when I do. I'm sad now. I just shed a few tears.

My basic question is: should I make up the details or just tell the story? Let me give you the simple story, what I remember, and you tell me how I should write it.

Me n Poot went to the hospital. I think this was the only time, until I got grown, that I ever went up there to visit anybody. I think. One of the details I have lost is who we were going to visit. It was a boy from school, but that is all I can recall. Who he was or why he was there is lost to me now. I don't even remember how old we were but my guess is twelve or thirteen.

In those days, you had to go by a Visitor's Desk and get a room tag to make visits. They gave you a tag, like a name tag, that you clipped to your shirt. So we got our tag, went to floor whatever, and knocked on a hospital door.

"Come in," a woman's voice from inside the room invited.

We didn't think anything about a woman's voice because boys have mothers, hospitals have nurses, and patients have visitors. So we went inside and it must have took us a half second to realize we had gone into the wrong room. But the odd thing was, we knew this woman. She was the mom of another boy, Timmy Hun, who went to our school.

We must have looked like two angels coming through the door because I swear she lit up like a Christmas tree when she seen us. I remember feeling very odd as we stood at the side of her bed, and she smiled and talked and laughed. 

Then everything went quiet. She seen Poot's room tag, and I think she even reached out and touched it. All the light left her face. We didn't know what to say. She spoke for us.

"He's next door," she mumbled and rolled over in her bed turning her back to us. We slinked out of the room like dogs with our tails between our legs who had just got whupped for turning over a garbage can.

I don't even remember visiting the boy we went up there to see that day. I do remember Poot asking me a few days later what I had learned. I said I learned not to go into the wrong hospital room. Check the room number before you knock on the door. Poot called me a dumb dickhead, and said he learned that old folks like attention. I didn't get it at the time.

Whenever I think back about that, about that day in Timmy Hun's momma's hospital room, I get very sad and sometimes I cry. The thing is so much of what me n Poot done we was trying to be bad, trying to be as bad as we could. But that day we wasn't trying to do nothin wrong. We just wanted to visit our friend.

To make it all even worse and the reason this is on my mind now is last night I found Timmy Hun on Facebook. Or I found his wife to be exact. But when I seen the picture of the two of them, Timmy and his wife, I recognized Timmy right off even though it had been about forty-five years since I seen him last.

So I sent her a message and asked if that was Timmy Hun in her profile pic. She responded that yes that was indeed Timmy and was I the one who . . . ? That's how I knew Timmy was there and telling her what to ask me. Then I asked about Timmy's mom and the conversation ended.

I did it again.

I wasn't trying to be bad but trying to be nice, and now I have apparently hurt someone's feelings once more.

So I am crying in my coffee and wondering about a bunch of stuff. Luvie is on the bed with me, and he is being sweet. He seems to know I am sad, and his affection makes me feel better. My wife sometimes gets mad at the cats and says they are bad, but they are just like me n Poot used to be and just want to have fun. 

And sometimes they just want to be sweet and rub up on something because they want to love and they accidentally knock something over and break it.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Self-punishing and Getting Good

I trained. I trained yesterday. I did more than one thing. Thank you God.

First, I went out for an ambulation, which at this stage of my comeback is a mixture of walking and shuffling. What I did was:

W- .72
R- 1.01
W- .73
R- .14
W- .32
total foot miles = 2.92

Walking in a winter wonderland
It wasn't much, but anything is a thousand times better than nothing which is all I've been doing lately, nothing. To make it all better, the ground and the trees were still covered in snow, a rare sight here in our part of the world. I must confess to being as excited as a little child about the snow, the beauty of it, and the unusual awareness it put into just being outdoors. Too bad I am not fit enough to stay out a really long time.

But wait, the day got even better. I texted the Mad Swimming Scientist to go ahead and get the bad news about practice being cancelled again. DUDE, WE HAD PRACTICE! So I drove over to see my grandchildren, and my granddaughter was wearing her mother's Chicot Challenge T-shirt. Sweet.

I spent some time with the kids and Smu and measured my daughter for her height. She has been told by her co-workers that she is NOT the 4'11" she claims. Well, I had her stand barefoot against the wall and carefully marked the spot where the top of her head came. Then I took a tape measure and carefully took a reading. She is not only as tall as she claims, but I measured her at 4'11 and 3/8". Take that, co-workers.

At DSU I was in no hurry to get in the water, which is unusual for me. After having been off for two weeks, I knew I had lost fitness and the regular practice would be enough. Mark Blackwood and I stood around and chatted and waited for Cagri to get there before we jumped in. I only swam 700 for a warm up. Normally I like to do at least 1,000, and if I get in early I can usually manage to sneak in 1,500 or more.

Then the practice started with 4 X 200, each 200 having a floating 50, that is a fast 50 that moved its position in each set. After that we did 8 X 100 with a floating 25 in each one. Can you guess what came next? If you guessed 2 X 400 you would be wrong but thinking right. Cagri's practices always have a mathematical balance. The next set was 1 X 800 with fins and paddles, and we were supposed to make it difficult in the manner of our own choosing. Isn't that sweet? Just like a college football team that has been caught breaking NCAA rules, we are sometimes expected to self-discipline or self-punish ourselves. Oh, I think for this one I will bang my head against the pool wall at each turn around. That should make him happy. 

Sometimes he will even go down the deck after a self-punish set and ask each swimmer what he or she did to self-punish. First time he did that it caught me off guard and had me stuttering for a second. Finally I came up with, "Floating 50s with some extra kicking between each." He smiled big at that, but I'm not sure if it was because he knew I was telling one or he thought I had come up with some good self-punishing.

Since I had left my fins in the truck, I chose to self-punish by seeing how long I could keep up with Mark, whom I always beat until we put on fins. In other words, even if I had my fins, Mark would still best me on this one but without the fins it would be a massacre. I hung with him for 150 and then the goal became to try to prevent him from lapping me, which I did manage to do. After practice I swam another 700 adding my own mathematical balance to the practice for a total of 3,800 scys.

I now feel a lot better and a lot more relaxed. I slept well last night and awakened this morning a pound lighter than the day before. That always make me happy. And currently I am hanging our with Jeff and the cats trying to dream up and nice practice of my own where I can self-punish with some mathematical balance. That always makes me happy. Maybe I could do 3 X 1,000 with a kick set between each swim. Nice balance but how to self-punish? Wait, I know. I can scrape the side of my face with my thumbnail on every ninth recovery stroke. 

Dang, I'm good.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Nearly Dangerous

I've been doing a lot of napping with cats, drinking coffee, and writing Poot stories. I love me some Poot stories. With the weather being how it is, my place of employment has been closed from Tuesday on through today. This has led me to tell you way more about Poot than I ever intended, and it has also caused me to contract a very serious illness. This odd string of circumstances has given me a bad case of the disease of ease.

The disease of ease is something I unfortunately come down with from time to time, but this time around it has been devestating. The sympotoms include (but are not limited to) an inordinate amount of napping, excessive coffee drinking, an uncontrollable urge to eat potato chips, Oatmeal Cream Pies, and candy bars, weight gain, loss of physical fitness, mental agitation, and a general dismal view of the future. Currently I am experiencing my worst case ever.

MDCC is not the only school to close. I think they all have during the great winter storm of 2015, also known as Remus. But the only other closing that impacts me is DSU, may alma mater. She has closed also. Her closing Tuesday knocked us out of a Masters practice. What made that cancellation so painful was the fact that we missed the entire week before due to a college swim meet, and the fish ponds were way too cold to think about swimming, even with a wetsuit. I'm not sure that the great cold water man himself, Shawn C. Turner, could swim these ponds right now. And as I type this, I am waiting on dreading my phone to buzz announcing a text from coach saying practice is off again tonight.

I swear, I am going to be dangerous.

I have missed two weeks of swimming, and I have a nineteen mile swim due in early June. I know, Shawn, I got this. But I am starting to get a bit antsy. It happens every year. Why can't i just train and go into the swim relaxed without the drama? I know what Poot would do. Poot would burn something down. But I ain't Poot and besides, we repented of all that sinful stuff we used to do.

I did go to Twin Rivers and lift weights Tuesday afternoon. Wednesday, I waited for the snow to pile up in the streets and then I went out. I walked a bit first and then shuffled for .7 of a mile. The snow was gorgeous and being out in it was a true worship experience as I thanked God over and over for the priviledge of experiencing His astounding beauty. This morning, when I arose and stood up, I had no unusual sensations in my foot, so maybe I really am on the road of recovery this time. If not, I swear, I'm gunna be dangerous.

Not only have I not been able to train, but these snow days will impact my future possibilities. We will have to make the days up even though this is a seventeen week semester as opposed to the normal sixteen weeks. It's not about pedagogy, it's about retaliation: retaliation for something none of us poor teachers (I mean that literally) had anything to do with. And when will we make the days up? you ask. On Firdays, of course, the one day I count on to get in some real endurance work.

I feel myself becoming dangerous.

I plan to get out on foot today and try to shuffle about .75, and if Cagri texts and says, 'Too bad guys, no practice,' I will grudgingly set up an appointment with the Endless Pool Fool. It's better than a poke in the eye, but only because I really like my eyes.  No, really, it is better than that.

Anyway, sorry about the rant and thanks for reading. I just needed to vent a little, and this blog gives me a venue to do that. If I didn't have this outlet, I swear I'd be dangerous.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Awards Banquet

By Jay Unver
The red carpet was rolled out, the smiles were ubiquitous, and the excitement palpable as athletes and their families flooded into the old opera house in downtown Lehrton this past Friday night for the fourth annual Big ASS Awards Banquet. Inside, tables made of plywood sheets laid on top of well-worn saw horses were decorated with artificial red roses set in plastic vases, producing a scene indescribably lovely.

Zane Hodge, dressed in his best blue suit, arrived with his wife, Penny, and immediately looked around and asked bystanders, “Anyone seen that tall guy?” an obvious reference to his rival, Randy Beets, who had not yet arrived. After posing for photos and signing a few autographs, Hodge and wife went inside and were seated.

Boy Scout Troop 200’s recent crop of Eagles Scouts served as ushers, servers, and drummer for the long anticipated event. Their artwork, child-like water color paintings of swimmers swimming also adorned the top of the plywood sheets which, along with the plastic flowers, created a setting words could never capture.

Once inside, Hodge and wife took their seats at their designated table which was marked, as were all the tables, by 3 X 5 index cards folded in half and names decoratively inscribed by one of the boy scouts with a quality number 2 pencil. Staige Roberts, one of the new Eagle Scouts, served the attendees hors d’oeuvres of mayonnaise and crackers from a decorative plastic serving tray. The organization had spared no expense.

Randy Beets arrived with his mother, Betty Ryan Beets, and father, Ray Beets. They were seated on the opposite side of the festive hall with a whole table of security officers seated in between them and Hodge’s table. Justin Nunnery and wife, Angelique, arrived and were also seated far away from Hodge. Hodge and Beets have come to fisticuffs on more than one occasion, and Hodge and Nunnery fought at the Heart O’ Dixie Triathlon after Nunnery narrowly defeated a disgusted Hodge for the Big ASS World Triathlon Championship.

The Reverend Jim Bob Duggan was called to the podium for the invocation and then Dr. Nomann took the microphone while the boy scouts served the congregants a delicious meal of potted meat stew, poke salad, and corn bread.

“I have a couple of important announcements to make one of which I will save for later,” Nomann said to the eager crowd. “Big ASS Endurance is pleased to proclaim it has taken the Fasttrack Fatties Athletic Club into the fold. The Fatties are now a subsidiary of Big ASS.” The room erupted in applause and Zane Hodge, the founder of Fasttack Fatties, was seen to wipe a tear from his proud eyes.

In case you don’t remember, Big ASS Endurance was formed four years ago when Dr. Nomann negotiated the merger of the Association of Sports Syclists, the Association of Sports Shufflers, and the Association of Sports Swimmers into one large sports group in a maneuver that ESPN called, “The biggest move in sports since Roberto Duran got the runs in New Orleans.”

And for the athletes impacted by the merger, life has been immeasurably better. Big ASS immediately began signing the best athletes in their respective sports to contracts that, while admittedly far from lucrative, have had a positive impact on the lives and the men and women who hitherto had competed solely for the love of sport.

Hodge, for instance, is reported to make a base salary of $35 and three cans of potted meat per year. While that is far from a living wage, the real financial benefits to the athletes come in the way of tax benefits. By having the legal status of professional athletes, many of their training and travel expenses are tax deductible.

Not everyone, however, agrees that Dr. Nomann’s merger has been a good thing. Mike Nerdo, former president of the Association of Sports Syclists says nothing has been the same since the merger. “I lost my job and Zane Hodge, who was the best ASS syclist in the world for three straight years and the face of our organization, now won’t even return my phone calls,” he said bitterly in a recent interview.

When asked about the rift between him and Nerdo, Hodge admitted to giving his former boss the stiff arm. “True, I don’t take his calls anymore. But that’s because every time he rings me up, he wants to borrow money.”

Be that as it may, the merger happened about the time Hodge was transitioning from syclists to open water swimmer, and while he may have been the face of the old Association of Sports Syclists, he has since become the face of Big ASS Endurance with numerous world championships in victory after victory over the tall but determined Randy Beets.

The crowd enjoyably ate their meals and then Nomann took the microphone for his second announcement. “For the past four years, Swim the Suck Ten Miler in Chattanooga, Tennessee has been our world championship race for swimmers who are members of the organization,” Nomann reviewed. “In years past, that has turned out to be a two way race between Hodge and Beets, as you all undoubtable know. This year, however, a third Big ASS athlete is officially registered for the Suck. The 2015 world championship will be a swim off between Hodge, Beets, and Justin Nunnery.”  

The crowd erupted in applause. Nunnery smiled big and waved to the room. Even Beets seemed happy. Hodge, on the other hand, didn’t clap and looked stunned almost beyond belief. Seeing that, I got up from the press table and eased over to Hodge’s table and asked, “Your response?”

“Now I know why he volunteered to pilot me at the last Suck. He was studying me and the course. Now he is coming to take me on. I feel played, hustled. That’s OK. Just another tall guy whose butt I’ll beat,” an obviously agitated Hodge quipped.

Then it was time for the awards. Triathlete World Champion and Triathlete of the Year was Justin Nunnery for his narrow thin victory ove3r Hodge at the Heart O’ Dixie. Rookie Swimmer of the Year was Big ASS newbie Anabel Lavers of London, England, who thanked the organization through Skype. Marathoner of the Year was Hodge for his numerous Buddy Bones victories. And Open Water World Champion and Swimmer of the Year for the fourth straight year was Hodge who defeated Beets in abstentia at the 2014 Suck. Hodge also won Catfish Pond Swimming Champion and Sportsman of the Year. There was a smattering of boos at Hodge being named Sportsman of the Year probably on account of his penchant for fist fighting his chief rivals.

Then Nomann announced the very last award of the night. Ethan Oltrami, recent Eagle Scout, did the drum roll while Nomann proclaimed: “The 2014 Biggest Loser of the Year award goes to [long pause here and really good drum roll] Randy Beets!”

A smattering of applause barely covered Hodge’s snickering, but nothing could cover his smile. “I love theses banquets,” Hodge said and he and his wife left the opera house with armloads of trophies. “Already I looking forward to the next one.”

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Me n Poot Make It Three in a Row

Thursday morning I thought might be just another day at school when I parked my moped just off Rosemary Lane next to Bankston School. Poot wasn’t there yet, and I started walking to class with a rare measure of calmness. Poot come in just before the first period bell, sat down and said, “I need 79 cents.”

I wanted to yell, to run away, to punch the little turd in the face. It was like Poot had an itch to see how close we could come to getting caught. Maybe he really wanted to get nabbed. Maybe that way he could confess to all the stuff we done and we would be famous outlaws like Al Capone and Jesse James. Maybe that was it. It was like we was always competing with Tooter and his gang to see who could be the baddest. Only Tooter could talk about his stuff, but most of what we done we couldn’t tell nobody.

Anyway, there weren’t no way in “h-e-double hockey sticks” he was ever gunna talk me into burning down a third house in three straight nights. And them all in a row, side by side. It wasn’t never gunna happen. Not never. Not no how.

By end of first period, I give Poot the money.

He kept passing me notes and that alone could have got us sent to the office. And if the teacher, Mrs. Jarman, had got one of these notes and read about us burning down houses, we would have left school that day in a police car.

Poot said there prolly would be somebody watching tonight. Around nine or ten. But weren’t nobody gunna stay in one of them houses all night and get murdered by mosquitoes. Besides, we wouldn’t do it until we knowed no one was inside. Weren’t nobody gunna run us down and swim the river after us if they was somebody on the stake out. We couldn’t get caught if we done it at 3:00 in the morning, spied it out, and was ready to run.

I ate the notes and give Poot the money.

Sometime in the early morning I slowly come awake to somebody, saying, “Zane. Zane. Wake up you dumb dickhead.”

I had left the window open and slept in my clothes. All I had I to do was put my shoes on and was then out the window.

The dangerous part of this one was not getting seen by the police. At eight or nine o’clock, we could always say we was just out running. In fact that’s what we done just last night when a cop asked us what we was doing. Even though Poot had his stopwatch, I don’t see why no police would ever believe our parents would let us out to “train” at three in the morning. No, we had to get to the river and back without being seen, and that had me real nervous, more nervous than setting fire to the house.

So we were going the Park Avenue/Medallion Drive route. Park Ave was lit up and had cops on it sometimes. But you could see ’em a long off. And we didn’t have to be on it far until we got to Medallion. Once on Medallion, there was a bean field on the left, then some houses, then a cotton field on the left we could duck into like a deer if we seen headlights.

So we went up Harding to Key Street, through the dump at Wonder Bread, and then peeped out to look for cops. We didn’t see nothing so we went to the shopping center and slipped up between the Twin Cinema and the Laundromat.  When we peeked around, there was a cop car easing along towards us looking into the store windows.

“Crap!” I yelled as we turned and run.

We went behind the shopping center and stopped at a dumpster. We was trying to figure what to do. We thought about climbing inside with the big trash can but then we heard the car idling between the Cinema and the Laundromat. No time. He turned our way and we had to slide like treed squirrels around that Dumpster, keeping it between us and him, while he passed going about one mile per hour. When he made the turn and was out of sight, Poot said, “Let’s run. It’ll take him a couple of minutes to make it back to Park.”

So we run like the wind. I was already scared out of my mind, but when we got on Medallion I realized I had the lighter fluid and lighter in my hand. If the cop had caught us we would have gone straight to Parchman Penitentiary for sure. We walked until we got to the houses and then ran till we got to the cotton field. I figured then we would get to the swing without being seen, but I was still nerved up.

Did I mention me n Poot hadn’t smoked no cigarettes since we started burning the houses on Wade Road? With all the running and swimming and no smoking, we really was in good shape. But that last incident with the cop had me shaking like a leaf in a whirlwind, and I felt weak and scared. We still had to swim the river, burn the house, swim back, and get home without being seen. I was starting to wonder why I hung out with Poot.

At the swing, we knew this time to take our clothes off here and then walk upstream. That meant we had to walk along barefoot and nekkid with one hand covering our goobers. If a mosquito bit your goober you was in misery for three days. But we got across the river, with me carrying the fluid and lighter, got redressed, and eased up to Wade Road walking between the field and ditch in the dark delta night.

We took a good long look when we got there. Two houses were still standing where there had been four. Twisted tin, lonely pilasters, and ashes made two ugly scars where houses had stood only a couple of days ago. We intended to make it three in a row.

We didn’t see or hear nothing but we sat there at the ditch for a long time, with our heads poking up just above road level. We watched for any movement and listened for any sound. Then Poot whispered, “Go on over and check it out like you done last time. Might better check ’em both out. If somebody runs out, don’t let ’em get between you and the road. If we have to run for it, let’s just jump in the river. We can kick these shoes off in the water.”

I scooted across the road and chucked a dirt clod through the window of our target house. Nothing. Then I crawled over to the next one and did the same thing. Nothing. I motioned Poot over and went back across the road to be the lookout. In nothing flat we were walking, not running, back to the river bank where we hid our shoes and shorts, again, walked up stream, and started our swim back across.

I glanced over my shoulder when we was in the middle of the river. The sky was orange with the fire of the house. We got back to the swing without getting our goobers bit, got dressed, and eased up to the road. I was really dreading the journey home, but Poot said it weren’t no problem. But Poot never seemed to worry about nothing.

We started walking towards Park and all the while we was listening for cars and for the fire truck. This time, we didn’t hear no fire truck. When we got to the houses we stopped and discussed whether or not to go straight through or make a bid loop though the cotton field and behind the houses. If someone looked out a window and seen us and called the police, we would wind up in jail.

So we went around in the cotton field and came out in the bean field that bordered Park Avenue. That meant a lot of extra walking, but we couldn’t be seen or get caught out there. When we finally got back to Park, we squatted in the bean field while an eighteen-wheel Wonder Bread truck passed and backed into the dump. We took another look and decided to make a run for the slot between the Cinema and the Laundromat. We made that and slipped around to the dumpster where we almost got caught an hour ago. 

We caught our breath and listened for cars. Instead of going the Key Street route, we decided to go through the fence at the end of Harding. The gap in the fence is still there to this day and sometimes when I am out running, I will run through the gap and remember the night me n Poot burned down our third house on consecutive nights. Once we got on Harding, I relaxed. We never saw cops on Harding. I knew now I was gunna make it, but Poot still had several blocks to go before he got home.

We got to my house and I crawled back through the window, put the screen back on, and tried to settle in for some rest. Although I was as tired as I had ever been, I couldn’t sleep but I just lay there and wondered what God thought about us. I wondered if He understood how a boy just had to do things. I wondered if Jesus ever burned a house down. Prolly not.

I must have eventually dozed off because Momma shook me awake and told me to get ready for school.

“You have never been this hard to wake,” she said with concern, pressing her hand against my forehead.

“I think maybe you and Robert have been running too much,” she told me as I tried to eat an egg she had fried me. Dad was drinking his coffee, reading the newspaper, and saying something about overdoing it.

“Y’all are right,” I mumbled as I washed a bite of egg down with a swallow of cold orange juice. “We have been running way too much. If Poot comes by this afternoon, tell him I can’t go.”

Monday, February 23, 2015

Week Oft

I took the week oft. O-F-T. For 2/16-2/22, I did nothing except lift weights one time. The reason for my sloth was two-fold: 1) DSU was closed to the DAM swimmers due to a swim their hosting of a swim meet, 2) my left shoulder has been a little sore, and I thought this would be a good chance to rest it, C) the weather was cold and the outdoor water temps were outrageously low, 5) I just didn't want to deal with the heat at the Endless Fool.

Speaking of outdoor water temps, I looked in last year's training journal and saw that for the third week of February 2014, I swam outdoors four times for a total of 14,170.84 meters. The water temps were from 60-63 degrees Fahrenheit. This year? Try upper thirties. Dude, I can't handle that. 

So I took the week oft and wrote Poot stories. Somebody said Poot is still a bad influence on me, but I can't see how that could possibly be. Not no way, not no how. On tap for this week is not a go-crazy swimming week, but an ease-back-into it swimming week with a couple of sessions in the gym.

Last week I tried to re-start running with a .16 and .5 mile efforts. The morning after the .5 miles shuffle, I could feel the foot-- not pain but something-- and that spooked me. I'll try again this week. Meanwhile, I'll swim three times and write some more Poot stories.

Oh yeah, I spoke to the Greenwood Professionals Legal Association Friday night, and they are sponsoring my swim as well as having a fundraiser for the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi. Now, I just need my body to hang together. Besides the shoulder, I have a hand that has pained me for several years. I think it is something I will have to live with from now on. I can as long as it doesn't plague me in the water. I have felt it a few times while swimming. That troubles me greatly. If you are a praying person, please intercede for me and my ability to train and pull off oft the Chicot Challenge one more time.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Me N Poot Make It Two in a Row

First thing Wednesday morning, Poot asked to borrow 79 cents. He wanted to buy some more lighter fluid, and he wanted to burn another house down. That night.

“You have to be crazy!” I yelled out loud. We were by the street, Rosemary Lane, where all the boys who rode to school parked their motorbikes. “You can’t burn a house down two nights in a row. It’s the wrong time.”

“It’s the best time,” Poot said. “Nobody will expect us to hit again tonight. Nobody.”

Then somebody rode up, Paul Darby on his Honda 65, I think, so we had to stop talking. I walked to class shaking my head. Poot had to be crazy.

But I kept thinking about it, and the more I thought the more right Poot sounded. Nobody would expect the fire bandits to come back the very next night.

Before the end of first period, I give Poot the money.

We were itching to talk all day but we had to be careful. At lunch, we couldn’t say much, but we mumbled some and spoke in code.

“Tonight we run till our lungs burn?” Poot asked.

“Yeah.” I knew what he meant.

Poot come by a little before eight o’clock.

“Y’all running again tonight?” Mom asked.

“We’re getting in real good shape, Mizz Hodge,” Poot said layin it on thick. And we were. “I think Zane’s gunna be a star.”

“Well if he becomes a star, he’ll have you to thank, Robert,” Mom said and gave him that big smile. I thought I was gunna puke. But even though it made me sick, it was to my advantage that Mom always reacted to Poot the way she did. I could always get out of the house, even on a school night, if Poot was involved.

Out the door, we started a slow run towards Key Street then over to Park Ave. We went a little way up Park and crossed over onto Medallion. The sun had set now and it was darkening fast.

By the time we got to the swing, it was dark enough to swim, but this time we had the sense to walk upstream before getting in so we would land in the right spot on the other side.

I didn’t know till we got ready to wade in that Poot hadn’t taken the lighter fluid over. He had it on him which meant one of us had to swim with it which meant I had to swim with it cause Poot would never make it across with a can of lighter fluid and a cigarette lighter in one hand.

I still beat Poot across the river and we got our shorts and shoes on. A little orange was still in the western sky, but it was full dark now, dark enough to be able to cross Wade Road without being seen.

Just like the night before, we got to the road and sat there for a long time. This time there wasn’t anybody in sight, but we knowed there might me somebody in one or all of the houses.

Finally, Poot said, “Why don’t you slip across and peek in the window. If the coast is clear, motion for me, and I’ll come on over.”

So I shot across the road bent down low and then crawled to the window on the side away from the houses where people lived. I got right under the window and sat there a while on my knees and listened. When I didn’t hear nothing, I slowly raised up to look through the long broken out window.

I couldn’t see nothing inside, so I eased back down. There coulda been half of Patton’s army in there and I wouldn’t have been able to see ’em. Then I thought what to do. I reached and got a dirt clod from under the house and hook shot it through the window. It hit with a thud. Nothing. If somebody had been in there, they would have hollered or run out or something. But when nothing happened I started motioning for Poot.

He came over and said, “You go back over and watch for cars. This won’t take long.”

And it didn’t. In less than a minute we was jogging back towards the river with the house already burning. We made it to the tree where we calmly hid and teeny shoes and shorts. This time, we were breathing hard but we weren’t about to heart attack like last night. We walked upstream and then waded in and started swimming. Last night, we were breathing so hard and were so skeered my legs felt weak and the swim was frightening. I thought Pool might even drown.

This time it was not big deal. We even walked upstream to land at the swing. But when we got there and crawled out, we forgot we left our clothes upbank where we took ’em off before swimming over the first time. Poot called me a dumb dickhead for not thinking to undress at the swing. I called him a turd brain for always wanting to do stuff that could get us in prison.

We got dressed and went the Riverside Drive/Walnut Street route. A policeman came motoring up when we was on Walnut Street.

“What you boys doing?” he asked.

“We just out getting a jump start on track this spring,” Poot said, holding up the stopwatch he had around his neck. In those days you didn’t wear stopwatches on your wrist, you wore these big things around your neck. Poot had talked to his dad about maybe running track, so his dad bought him a stopwatch. I had thought it was ridiculous when Poot had showed up at my house with that thing around his neck. But when the policeman saw that, he just rode away. He didn’t say nothing neither.

So that is how we burned down our first three houses and two in two nights. And we got away with it.

But there’s more.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Me n Poot Strike Again

Trees line a ditch across Wade Road and in front of the houses me n Poot were planning to burn down. We drove our mopeds off the road and followed that drainage which led us behind a small patch of woods and to the banks of the Tallahatchie River. This is where Poot told me the plan.
From where we were on the river bank, we could look across and see the edge of town and the swing, on town side, at the end of Medallion Drive. In those days, there were three swings that I knew about. One was on the Yazoo off of West Claiborne. Another was off of Wade Road just over the Tallahatchie Bridge. That’s the one me n Poot spent the most time at although we swam at them all. And one was at the end of Medallion Drive. Today, where the swing off Medallion was, the river bank has been stripped of the huge trees that covered it then and it’s been rocked by the Corps of Engineers in order to stabilize the bank. Erosion had slowly been moving the river closer and closer to the road because the river makes a sharp sharp bend there.
“This is what we do,” Poot said as we gazed across the river at the swing off Medallion. “We start going out at night, after dark. We can say we are running, getting in shape for track in the spring. We tell our parents that we gotta wait till it gets dark cause of the heat. We stay out longer and longer and come home covered in sweat. We do it ever night, that way nobody gets suspicious when one of those houses burns. Then when everything is set we burn the first one down.”
“But Poot, it just takes one person to see us cross the bridge . . . .”
“We ain’t gunna cross no bridge, dummy.” He pointed across the river to the swing. “We swim the river right there. After dark. Nobody on town side can see us because of the trees on the river bank and the dark. Nobody on this side can see us cause of that patch of woods,” he said pointing back towards Wade Road. And we have that ditch for our own personal get-away road.”
Wow, I thought. That’s when I heard the Mission Impossible music start playing in my mind.
“Now we gotta get us some tenny shoes to stash on this side so we got shoes when we get out of the river. Maybe a shirt and shorts. And lighter fluid, of course. We can get that stuff at Gibson’s. And a hammer and a towel and small nails.”
“Hammer, towel, nails?”
“To cover the window. To give us time to get across the road before somebody can look out their window and see the flames.”
“Yeah.” There was a line of homes starting about two hundred yards from the shotgun house. That was our only real danger of getting caught, if somebody looked out and saw the flames and then seen us run across the road. The towel over the window would give us a minute or two to light the fire and get gone.
So the plan was set and we started right away getting ready. The next day we both took some of our yard money to Gibson’s and bought shoes and shorts and a T-shirt and a towel. Poot already had a hammer and nails in his pack back at his house. We left Gibson’s, went back to Poot’s and got his pack, and took all the stuff to the river bank and hid it under a tree and covered the stuff with leaves.
The next night, we did our first training run. We both stayed home all afternoon and told our mom’s we was doing our homework early so we could go out after dark and start training for track. It worked.
First night out we didn’t get nowhere near the river. We just walked around about an hour and then run home so we would be outta breath and sweaty when we got back. Next night we made our way to the swing just to look things over in the dark. Perfect. We could come and go on Riverside Drive or Medallion either one. The houses on Riverside Drive ended a hundred yards or so from the swing. At that time, the ones on Medallion were at least a quarter of a mile from the river bank. We could slip in and out with nobody seeing us and since we were “training for track,” being wet was to be expected. And with it dark, couldn’t no cars slip up on us cause we could see the headlights.
So we made plans to burn the house down the next Tuesday. The days were getting a little shorter, giving us more time. We would go out to run Monday night and again Wednesday so we would be out plenty without anything suspicious happening.
And that’s what we done.
Tuesday night we followed the little path off Riverside Drive to the river bank, pulled our clothes off, and waded into the river. I was skeered. I don’t know why. We had swum here a whole bunch, but it was creepy crawling into the brown water in the dark. If Poot hadn’t been there, I don’t think I could have gone through with it.
And we didn’t count on the current carrying us so far downstream. We stayed in the water when we got to the other side and looked back. We were straight across from houses on Riverside Drive. It was pretty dark so maybe they couldn’t see us. But just in case, we walked upstream in the water so as not to leave tracks and staying as low as we could.
When we got back straight across from the swing, we had to get out without leaving tracks. There was a strip of wet bank that stretched from the water line about two feet up the bank. Above that the bank was dry for a couple of feet and after that a strip of grass grew before the bank crested. We had to get close to the water edge and then step up and over the wet soil to the dryer, harder soil above.
We done it, climbed the bank and found our shoes, shirts, shorts, and other stuff under the tree where we left them. We got dressed, picked up the hammer, lighter fluid, and lighter and started making our way towards Wade Road and Star of the West Plantation.
We stayed on the edge of the field until we got to the road. At the closest house, the one next to the one we was going to burn, an old man and old woman was going in and out of the front door. We finally figured they was unloading groceries. So we sat there at the edge of the road and we was a all-you-can eat buffet for the fat delta mosquitoes.
They finally finished, but when they did we seen headlights coming from Money Road, so we let the mosquitoes feast some more. A pickup truck drove slowly past and turned in a few house down. There is a line of houses on Wade Road down there that lead up to the headquarters of Star of the West Plantation, a delta cotton farm named after a captured Yankee ship the confederates sunk in the Tallahatchie River to stop General Grant from using the river to get to Vicksburg.
The truck stopped two houses down and a floppy man got out and went inside. He came back out almost instantly, cussing like he was in a contest. A woman shot out the door behind him, threw something his direction and did some cussing of her own. Me n Poot blushed. At least I did. I couldn’t see Poot’s face but I could feel mine turn red and hot. I had never heard a girl or woman cuss. The man flopped back into his truck and peeled out of there.
Finally, the coast was clear and we slipped across the road and into the house. Poot hurriedly stood on the window sill and held the towel up while I tacked it to the framing. Poot then wasted no time in emptying the lighter fluid on the floor and the wall of a closet. Then he told me to check the road. All was clear.
“Take that spring off the screen door so it won’t slam behind us,” he said. His breathing was quick and shallow. Mine was too. My heart was about to beat out of my chest. Then Poot lit his cigarette lighter and dropped it on the lighter fluid dampened floor.
We runned.
We runned fast.
We runned real fast.
When we got to the tree where we took our clothes off and hid our hammer, we was breathing so hard I thought we both would heart attack. We looked back and already the house was blazing pretty good but we didn’t hear nobody stirring.
This time we had the sense to walk upstream about fifty yards before we got in and started our swim back. We was still breathing real hard and for a bit I was skeered Poot might drown. He couldn’t swim as good as me, so I went slow and encouraged him. But we made it alright. We just landed about twenty-five yards town ways below the swing and had to walk back on the bank. The current is too fast on that side to walk up in the water.
We got dressed and peeked out of the trees onto Medallion Drive. No lights. We stepped out into the street and turned left walking up Riverside. We could see the glow from the fire across the river on our left. We was wet, but not no wetter than if we had been running. We walked, without talking, and listen to the Katydids filling the September air with their sounds.
Then we heard the fire truck roaring and yelling and honking through red lights as it raced up Grand Boulevard. We knowed we had pulled it off, and I didn’t even feel like squirting, but went home and slept real good.

[I appologize for the font. On the draft, it shows most of the story in Verdana and the final paragraph in Ariel. Published it is the opposite and try as I may, I cannot have my way with the text here. I think it's Poot's fault]

Monday, February 16, 2015

Week of 2/9-2/15

It was another fairly light training week although I did once more surpass my swimming totals from the same week last year. Monday I did a big session on the weights and Tuesday I was off the DSU and

100 the ladder all on tough breathing patterns
250 easy
3,000 small paddles in 50:22 = 1:42
total: 7,200 yards = 6,580 meters.

Wednesday I did more weightlifting, and Thursday I was back at DSU for

600 cd
total: 4,900 yards = 4,483 meters.

That's all I did for the week. My left shoulder was a little sore, so I just took in easy the last few days. I'm still not running, but I stopped limping a few days ago and hope to start back soon. My weight is too high yet, and that troubles me a great deal.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Poot Has a Plan

After Poot slipped up and let it out that it was us who broke into Bankston School and wrecked the place when we was in the sixth grade, he tried to say he was just kidding. But it was too late. Tooter and Peanut literally ran to their Hondas, kick started, and was off in a flash. We knew as soon as they got home the phone lines would be burning up. Everybody was going to know.
And they did.
I went home and started squirting in the commode. Again. When Mom tried to get me to eat supper, I lied and told her me n Poot had found a dead squirrel on the river bank and cooked it. “I don’t feel so good,” I moaned, holding my stomach.
So it was more Pepto Bismo, more hands to the forehead, more complaining, “Roger, he’s always cooking stuff down on the river and coming home sick,” and more making me take worm medicine.
I went to bed early and thought about where I could run off to and live. I figured the police would come during the night, maybe any minute now, so when Mom and Dad went to bed, I filled my pack up with clothes and food. Then I snuck out and moved my moped around to the back so when the police come I could run out the back door and take off. I figured to go to the river where me n Poot had fished all summer. There was still a quart of beer and some fishing stuff down there and with the food in my pack, I could be comfortable for a few days. Then I could head out for Africa and where I would hunt lions and become famous and write books and maybe be a hero.
When Mom woke me for school the next morning, I was asleep with my pack on and clothes on which made her ask questions which made me tell lies. Whenever Mom asked questions now, I always had to come up with one. “Must have been sleep walking. I swear I don’t remember a thing.” It seems I was always telling lies, and I knew God was keeping a record. I didn’t want to go to prison and I didn’t want to go to hell, but no matter how hard I tried, it was like being stuck in quicksand. The more I struggled, the deeper in I got.
And school, it was crazy that day. Me n Poot was practically mugged by everybody asking us about tearing the school up and before first period was over I was sitting in Bailey’s office. Again. The amazing thing was for the first time ever, I wasn’t skeered and needing to squirt in the commode. I think it was because I was too tired to feel right from being up most of the night peeking out the window to see if the police were there yet.
Bailey threatened me with a lie detector test, but this time I knowed he was telling one hisself cause two years ago, after we first done it, he had made the same threat. I told him to be sure to test Tooter who was the one who started this rumor and the one who made Al Taylor shoot his thumb with a sling shot.
Then I pulled a name out of the air, a lawyer I had heard Dad mention once and I blurted, “Dad said if you messed with me anymore for you or me one to call Ewin Henson, cause Dad has already paid him a bunch of money for him to do something about y’all always beating my butt and accusing me of stuff and keeping me in here and ruining my education.”
Holy cow, it worked! Bailey got quiet then he give me the evil eye for a couple of minutes, but he didn’t say nothing else, except to tell Mrs. Turnbull-- who I could smell standing behind me-- to send me back to class. That’s when I knowed we wasn’t going to prison for breaking in and tearing up the school.
But there was still the matter of burning down a house. I even felt a little better about that. It sure didn’t seem to bother Poot none. Nothing never bothered Poot as far as I could tell.
After school I was in the den again, trying to study and show God how I was going to be good since he got me out of prison, and you can guess it, right? Poot come by, just like yesterday. And just like yesterday Mom made me go with him even though I protested and said I still didn’t feel real good. Only this time she said, “Robert, don’t let Zane cook any dead animals because he always comes home sick when y’all eat on the river.”
“I won’t, Mizz Hodge. I tried to stop him yesterday, but he wouldn’t listen to me.”
“Zane, you do what Robert says and you’ll stay out of trouble, you hear?”
“Yes’m,” I forced myself to mumble.
It always chapped my butt how Poot could do no wrong. When we burned off the grass in the front yard one winter day, that was my fault. When we burned the storage room down, my parents were furious that I had got Poot into trouble. When Poot blew a whistle in church one Sunday morning and I laughed-- not out loud even-- I got my ear twisted and fussed at when we got home. “The only reason Robert does things like that is you laugh at him,” Mom had scolded me.
One reason we called him Poot was because he could let one go whenever he wanted to. When the preacher would come to “And the LORD said . . .” Poot always passed gas out loud, and the pew I sat on would be shaking. Heck, the way I figured it, I deserved a cookie for not laughing out loud, but instead, I got my ear twisted and fussed at when we go home even though Poot done it not me.
Besides all that, he was a little runt which was another reason we called him Poot, because he didn’t weigh as much as a poot. And he always said, “Yes Ma’am” and “No Ma’am” so my mom thought he was perfect, just a little angel. He might look like a sissy, but if anybody ever come by your house and wanted to sneak out or shoot something or tear something up or drink beer, or burn a house down, it was Poot.
So off we went at my mother’s orders to obey Poot. Just like yesterday, up Harding Street, up the Boulevard, over the bridge onto Wade Road, but this time we didn’t stop at the swing even though there were three Hondas, a moped, and some bicycles down there. We kept going until we was in front of four old shotgun houses, and Poot stopped and got off his moped. I stopped, shut mine down, and got off.
“Well what?” I asked.
“This is what I wanted to show ya.”
“I seen ’em before, Poot. What’s the big deal?”
“The big deal is which one do you want?”
“Which one do you want to burn down first, you dumb dickhead?”
“Oh crap!” I shouted and grabbed my butt with both hands. I squeezed tight and tried not to squirt in my pants. “You have got to be kidding. There is no way we can do that and not get caught,” I yelled at him, highly agitated.
“Oh, yeah we can. I got a plan.”
And at that point, I had to step behind a tree, drop my pants, and squirt on the ground because when Poot had “a plan” it was always something that could get us sent to Parchment Penitentiary for a long time.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Weekly Review (2/1-2/7)

The week of February 1 through 7 was a step up in my swim training although I am still not running. Monday I did nothing but teach and nap. I felt like that was what I needed so that is what I did. Tuesday, however, I began afresh with a trip to DSU where I swam

1,300 warm up
8 X 50 @ 1:00 decline 1-4
10 X 50 1-4 @ :50, 5 @ 2:00 two times through
50 easy
5 X 100 medium paddles @ 2:30
10 X 50 @ 1:00 25 hard/25 easy
end of Masters
2,650 medium paddles in 45:15 = 1:42
50 easy
total: 5,950 yards = 5,438 meters.

Wednesday I did a major back yard weight session, and Thursday it was Masters and the Mad Swimming Scientist all over again. I swam

1,750 warm up
8 X 50 @ 1:00
800 medium paddles
800 swim
1,050 swim
end of Masters
2,700 small paddles in 47:21 = 1:45
total: 7,500 yards = 6,855 meters.

I looked back at my training diary from a year ago and found that I did not swim at all this week last year. Tuesday last year I preached my mother-in-law's funeral, and on Thursday I had a stomach virus. That jumps me ahead of last year by a good bit, or you could say it catches me up because last year the Challenge was a week later being the second week of June rather than the customary first week. But this year, I not only swam, I swam a third time making a Friday trip to DSU where I did

1,850 warmup
500 back kick/swim with fins by 25
8 X 25
4 X 50
4 X 75
4 X 100
2 X 125
1 X 150 all on a 2:00 per 100 pace
200 easy
total: 4,050 = 3,701.

Friday when I got home I was trying to clean the house a little when I realized I was not limping. !!! Finally. Thinking back, I didn't feel the foot Thursday night when I swam. Usually I could feel some discomfort while doing my light two-beat kick.

Saturday it was the backyard gym for another upper body session. For the week, I

Lifted weights two times and
swam 15,994 meters for a total of 58,627 for the year which puts me ahead of last year at this time by 26,379 meters.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Best Day of School Ever (A Poot Story)

Three days after we burned the house down, me n Poot started back to school. Three days after we started back to school, Poot come by the house in the afternoon. I knowed something was up.
“Robert’s here,” Mom said in her sweetest voice.
Ordinarily I would say “Who?” when someone mentioned Robert. But when Mom used that voice, she was only talking about Poot.
I was in the den doing my homework, trying to write a paragraph about a president. But what I was really doing was trying to be a good boy, trying to convince God I wasn’t never going to do nothing wrong ever again and not to send me to hell and not to let the police come get me.
“I got homework, Poot. I can’t fish today,” I snapped hoping he would go away without a fuss.
“Heck. I wrote that paragraph while I was still at school.”
“Well I ain’t fast like you, Poot. And besides, I want to make good grades this year.”
“I ain’t wanting to go fishing. I just want to show you something down on the river. It won’t take long.” Then he played dirty. “I won’t keep him but a few minutes, Mizz Hodge,” he said turning to Mom who was still in the room. And just like that Poot got his way. Again.
“OK. You go with Robert, Zane. But don’t get him in any trouble, you hear?” Mom snapped at me like I was the one who did bad stuff.
So we got on our mopeds and rode up Harding Street to the Boulevard, and then up the Boulevard and across the Tallahatchie Bridge and out Wade Road. We seen two Hondas down at the swing so we went down there. It was Peanut and Tooter. Peanut was a fighter and Tooter Henderson specialized in slingshots. He shot a slingshot as good as me n Poot shot .22 rifles. Maybe better. He always had a Wrist Rocket with him and a pocket full of marbles or steel ball bearings. Me n Poot was famous for shooting stuff with our rifles, but Tooter shot as much stuff with his slingshot. His dad bought him all the marbles and ball bearings he wanted because he said shooting a slingshot was a good way for a boy to stay out of trouble. Once, he shot out every outside light at Bankston School. We had all snuck out one night and met up at Bankston. Tooter said, “Watch this,” and then he proceeded to shoot out all the lights on the breezeways. He done it all in minutes.
Marty said that wasn’t no big deal, try a street light. So we followed Tooter around North Greenwood while he shot out streetlight after streetlight. He was good.
Anyway, we got to smoking and talking about all the stuff Tooter had shot. Then we hatched an idea to shoot out the back windows of people’s houses who lived on Robert E. Lee while they were home. We could go up the river bank on the town side and Tooter could shoot out the windows. Then we would all jump in the river and swim away. At night of course. You can’t do that with no rifle. Tooter said, name the night and he would do it.
I could feel my bowels starting to loosen.
Then we got to talking about the time Tooter taught Al Taylor how to shoot a slingshot. We was all on the river at the swing and Tooter was shooting anything anybody could point out. Al asked if Tooter would teach him how to shoot. So Tooter told him the secret was in using your thumb like a rifle sight. Tooter demonstrated how you stick your thumb up between the post of the slingshot and “cover what you are wanting to hit with your thumbnail. Then pull back as hard as you can and let go.”
So Al done it. He took aim at a snag on a log, stuck his thumb up for a sight, pulled back as far as he could, and turned loose. Now, having studied ballistics, I figure that ball bearing hit his thumbnail at about 800 feet per second. Al yelled so loud everybody in every grave for three counties woke up. He took to jumping around like a kangaroo, holding his thumb and hollering. Then he fell down and rolled on the ground crying like a baby and kicking the dirt. We was all laughing so hard we couldn’t catch our breath. Al walked home that day with tears streaming down his face, still holding his thumb like it was about to fall off and crying every step of the way.
The next day at school, Al showed up with a huge white bandage on his left thumb. He didn’t even make it inside before everyone was asking him what happened. All the guys started chuckling, and Al got really pissed. He said he had to go to the hospital and get shots and get his thumbnail taken off and when he got well he was going to do some serious arse whuppin.
Everybody went, “Oohh, I’m scared.”
Then in class, somebody, Richard Byrd I think, started reenacting the event when the teacher wasn’t looking, acting like he was pulling back a slingshot and shooting himself and holding his thumb. Within minutes of first period starting, six of us was already sent to the office. It was like that all day, a steady stream of kids sent to the office.
Then after lunch, when we was on the breezeway walking back to class, me n Poot got Betty Shinrod to run up ahead and do another reenactment. We could always get her to do stuff because she wanted the boys to like her, so she done it. Everybody laughed and Mrs. Cummins got real pissed, again.
Then when we was back in class, Principle Bailey come over the intercom and said for everybody to leave Al alone and not to make no more jokes about his thumb. Then, I guess he held the button down a little too long, and I swear he chuckled a little before the intercom went off. The room immediately broke into uncontrollable laughter, even the girls. Every room on the hall was laughing like crazy. Mrs. Cummins started pounding her desk with a book like a judge pounds a gavel, screaming, “Class! Class!”
When things finally settle down she said, “If there are any more eruptions, everyone will stay after school.”
Poor choice of words. Richard Byrd said, “Ahhh. Eruptions!” And the class broke up again.
We all stayed after school. Not just our homeroom, but the entire eighth grade which caused huge traffic issues outside. When we finally got tuned loose, Mrs. Cummins was walking Al down the breezeway towards him mamma’s car. Mrs. Taylor got out when she seen Al was crying and when his mom approached Al blurted out, “I’m gunna beat the hell out of the whole damn school.”
Mrs. Cummins said, “Hey boy,” and jerked Al around by the shoulder.
Mrs. Taylor then started shouting at Mrs. Cummins and a whole crowd of kids and moms gathered around and it was almost a riot. Peanut was dancing around shadow boxing and everybody was enjoying the fun. Parents were yelling, Al was weeping and we was happy. This is how school should be, I thought.
“That was the best day of school ever,” Tooter said.
We was all sitting on the riverbank now smoking cigarettes and talking this stuff. The sun was down, and it was getting dark. So much for only being gone a little while. Mom would blame me, of course.
“Yeah,” Poot said. “That was the best day. Better even than the Monday after me n Zane broke in and tore up the school.”
For a few seconds there was total silence. I was horrified. For two years Poot had kept our secret. Now he done got careless and let it out.
I felt my bowels loosening some more.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Me n Poot Burn Down a House

When me n Poot set Mom’s front yard on fire, it was an accident. When we burned down Dad’s storage room and destroyed his boat motor, several coolers, fishing poles, life preservers, and a lawn mower, that wasn’t on purpose neither. But when we burned a house to the ground in the summer of 1969, it was no accident. Poot called it “our finest hour.”

Towards the end of that first summer we had our mopeds, Poot started talking about us setting fire to a house. This was when we was fishing the Yalobusha River. Mostly that summer, besides smoking and drinking beer, we was pretty good boys. But me n Poot couldn’t be good too long. Fun was building within us and like lava inside a volcano, and it was bound to bust out sooner or later.

Beside the old gravel highway that we usually rode in on, there were some more gravel roads that led from the new, paved Highway 7 to the levee near where me n Poot fished. We rode them all and discovered a few abandoned houses sitting alone surrounded my sedge grass and unhealthy looking trees. In those days, tractors and field equipment was getting bigger and bigger and it didn’t take as many people to farm the land anymore. Empty houses was everywhere in the delta. Many of them was what we called shotgun houses, long, thin shacks that once housed the families of sharecroppers and tractor drivers. Some were larger structures where plantation managers raised their families back before a man could farm over a thousand acres alone.

Poot got the idea that we should burn one of these old houses to the ground. Just thinking about it gave me the trots and had me unable to sleep most nights. It made me think a lot about something Dad once told me. He said when I was thinking about doing something I thought would be fun but could get me in trouble, to think how it sound to try to tell him and the police why I done it. That was some of the best advice my dad ever gave me even though it never kept me from having fun.

I tried that with burning down a house and couldn’t think of nothing good to say about it. I imagined myself in court, shackled in leg irons and handcuffed trying to tell the jury and judge and a firing squad why I burned a house down. Here are the best ones I could come up with:

  “The farmer didn’t need it no more, so we got it out of his way.”
  “We got wet and cold and needed some heat.”
  “We was just looking around and using our cigarette lighters for light and the fire just started when one of us dropped a lighter.”
  “We was just standing there a BOOM, lightning struck and set the place ablaze.”
  “We rode over and when we stopped, a hobo ran out and dropped his cigarette on the porch. Before we could put the fire out, it was too late.”
  “Somebody set us up because they was jealous we was catching so many fish.”

Those didn’t seem to be worth much. Besides, we had already set two fires at my house. If we got caught, nobody was going to believe a single word we said, and we would go to prison for sure.

But Poot kept bringing it up and the more he talked about it the better it sounded. I was still scared and tried to talk Poot out of it.

“We’ve been coming down here all summer,” I told him. “The farmers and the people who live on the old highway and all the tractor drivers have all seen us over and over. Who do you think they are going to think done it?” I tried to reason with him.

“They won’t know nothing. They can suspect all they want but they won’t know.”

“Why can’t we just shoot some stuff?” I asked. “We could go to prison for burning houses down. We might even get the death penalty and go to hell.”

“If nobody sees us do it, nobody can’t prove nothin’. Besides, who will really cares? It will actually help the farmer out. He can get some of his field back and make more money. If anybody asks us about it, we don’t know nothing. Just like you and me and breaking into Bankston School. Remember how Bailey tore into you? He knowed you done it but he couldn’t prove nothin’.”

Besides all that, it was getting close to school starting Poot argued. We would pretty much not be fishing every day and swimming the river. We needed a big event to end the summer, to hold us over till next vacation. And burning a house down would be the biggest and best thing we had ever done.

So that’s how it went down, that’s how he convinced me and then I really got the trots. I would lie awake at night thinking about it and then be up and down for hours squirting in the commode. Momma made me take Pepto Bismo or whatever that stuff is, and at breakfast, on those rare days me n Poot didn’t fish because one of us had a yard to mow, I would pick at my food and wonder what Dad would say when the police came to arrest me. Actually, it would have been the sheriff, but I didn’t know the difference then. I used to wonder if Mom would cry and bring me cookies in prison.

So me n Poot went fishing a few more times, but on each trip we rode around and looked at all the houses. We finally picked the one on the road nobody lived on thinking that would reduce the chances of us being seen. We fished and talked about how we would do it. Buy a can of lighter fluid from Jack’s Store. Squirt it on the floor. Light it. Run! Our mopeds would be parked in the middle of the road so as not to leave tracks.

That’s how we done it late one afternoon after spending the day on the river bank. We stopped our mopeds in the road and walked up on the porch. When we found the front door locked, we was surprised, but a surprise never stopped Poot. He took a piece of a 2X4 and knocked the front window out and then squirted the lighter fluid on the floor, lit a match and dropped it.

We drove like our lives depended on it all the way to the highway and only slowed enough when we got there to make the turn. Once on the highway, I looked to my right and saw smoke rising in the distance from where we had just come. Those mopeds would go 52 miles per hour and that’s how fast we went all the way back to town.

At home I went straight in and took a bath. I wasn’t hungry and told Mom me n Poot had eaten all day on the river. I went to bed right away but I didn’t sleep. Three days later we started the eighth grade at Bankston. Poot was pissed because nothing was never in the paper about the house burning.

Now forty-five years later, I think back on those days and try to figure out why we done some of the stuff we done, why we thought we needed to burn down houses. Later, I’ll tell you about some of the others. All I can say now is we wanted to have fun, and me n Poot thought we needed to prove we was above average. The problem with Poot was he needed to prove it often. And we did.