Niggerhead

Description: Big Thicket National Park Source:...

The Big Thicket Image via Wikipedia

I sincerely apologise to anyone offended by my repeating this degrading racial slur and using it for my title. I’m afraid it was necessary.  S. Jacke

It is downright heartwarming to know that things seem to have remained the same in Texas as they were back in 1972. We call this Tradition, with a capital ‘T’. Kind of like Texas, que no? I remember fondly, how, after a brutal semester at the University of Texas was half over, during spring break, a brain dead buddy of mine dragged me away from my nice, isolated dorm room, my hermitage, to camp for a week on his daddy’s deer lease in East Texas. I call him brain dead, because he was about twenty or twenty-one at the time, and had been doing acid almost daily since he was fifteen. Brain dead? There probably wasn’t much brain left, to be dead. A deer lease, for those of you not fluent in Texan, is a rental agreement between a rancher and a non-landowner, allowing the flatlander to murder German Shepherd sized deer on the rancher’s property.

My friend, Kim, insisted we had to go up to his daddy’s deer lease, because I needed to cool down, after studying so hard all semester. He wouldn’t take “No!” for an answer. So, we headed into the Big Thicket, he in his rusty, yellow 1967 Volkswagen Beetle and I in my dented, faded metallic blue 1965 Chevy Chevelle, with four doors, a straight six, and a one barrel carburetor; a real powerhouse. I had an old Browning .22 rifle and a Kabar. Kim had a single barrel 12 gauge pump. We had more than enough illegal herbal substances to anaesthetize an army, and plenty of beer. We were prepared!

Somewhere, in the piney woods of East Texas is a little town called Flynn. I think they had one small gas station, and one tiny ‘mom and pop’ grocery store. There were a few old houses scattered around, and that was about it.

The ranch was a splendid affair, with a modern subdivision style, red, one storey house with electricity and indoor plumbing. Light shown from every window, as we pulled up to it, in the late afternoon. A lazy old, blue tick hound slept in the open front doorway. All sorts of fruit trees grew in the front yard, engulfed by moist, green grass. The ranch house was surrounded by acres of nothing but acres of nothing, with a meandering creek, bordered by ancient trees on both sides. These trees were tall enough for a person to climb clear up to heaven, if he could last that long.

On our arrival, we met with the rancher to learn how to find our sanctuary, and spent more time than we needed making a lot of empty talk to be appropriately friendly, so the sun was setting pretty quickly, before we got to our humble abode, and humble it was. Down by the creek, way below the ranch house was an old, unpainted, weathered shack, where would-be deer hunters would sort of camp and drink lots of beer, with a fully equipped kitchen, several beds, and a makeshift living room of salvaged furniture. After a grueling semester in Austin, this was as close to paradise as a person could come without dying first. Night fell like an anvil, with such suddenness you could almost hear a deafening crash. Kim lit the kerosene lamps, so we could see what we were doing, and I built a fire in the old pot-bellied stove, to stave off the encroaching penetrating dampness of the creek bed dominated night.

Dawn happened with an unforgiving stubbornness, and a bunch of rude birds just had to scream their mating rituals right outside the window next to where I was sleeping. Kim had smoked enough dope, the night before, that nothing bothered him. I lighted the fire in the old stove, so we could have some coffee. That was the one thing, beside beer, guns, ammunition, and marijuana which we remembered to bring. We would have to go ‘into town’ later, at a more civilized hour, peruse the mom and pop store, and stock up on some groceries.

Morning and several cups of coffee turned into noon, and Kim and I were both so hungry, we felt like our stomachs thought our throats had been slit. Kim had kept finding stupid little, distracting things of no consequence to do, getting all tied up in the details, even to the point of watching two frogs mate on the creek bank. It seemed like it took forever to motivate him in the direction of groceries. After negotiating a trail across the flood plain, climbing up the steep dirt road to the ranch house, and creating unforgiving dust clouds all down the gravel road into town, the mom and pop grocery store stood abruptly and impassively before us, like some stone edifice in ancient Petra. Finally, we would get some food!

A cloud of dust surrounded our cars as we slid to a stop. I opened my door and climbed out of my filthy, dust encrusted car. In spite of a blessedly restful slumber without interruption all night, save for the cacophony of a bunch of rude birds at dawn, I felt stiff, and it was good to walk. Kim followed, talking about some obscure, arcane, decadent poetry he had encountered in San Francisco, smoking his ever present cigarette. He would habitually ramble on this way, without anyone paying the slightest attention. It never seemed to matter. In spite of our muddy cowboy boots, the bell bottomed jeans, t-shirts, and our past shoulder length hair made us just a little bit conspicuous. Kim entered the store first. We were ravenous. I headed towards the meat area, intent on getting a freshly butchered steak or two. Off to my right. I heard Kim’s voice babbling about something, which I deeply feared would be worse than inappropriate. In Austin, Kim’s compromised mentation was bad enough, but in a little town in East Texas, he could be downright dangerous!

I’d filled a grocery basket with various foodstuffs, which two very hungry twenty-something males would find appealing: bacon, eggs, steaks, beans; the normal thing. Ahead of me, in the checkout line, I saw two middle aged black ladies with eyes as wide as silver dollars, speechless in their horror, as Kim continued a rant about soul brothers and black power, then made a salute into the air with his right fist. He insisted upon shaking hands with each of them, and not in the normal fashion, but in the ‘revolutionary’ style, before they could make their escape. The grocery clerk behind the counter, standing next to the cash register, had taken all of this in; every detail. He did not appear amused. Kim felt very proud of himself. Kim felt very proud, indeed, as was evident by his smug grin, beneath perpetually glazed eyes.

The tension in the room was as thick as the fog on a winter’s day down by the gulf coast near Galveston. I took care of paying the clerk, and he was polite enough, but I could sense there was something wrong, dangerously wrong. We had to get out of there. I escorted Kim to his VW, and he continued to babble insensibly. He pointed his battered, yellow VW bug down the road towards the camp and I followed in my old Chevelle. We passed by the red ranch house, with the rancher’s muddy, Ford pickup truck parked in the drive, and the old hound dog sleeping in the open front doorway, but we didn’t stop. I just wanted to get ‘home’ and finally eat.

A brunch of steak, eggs, bacon, and beans, with a couple of cold beers just hit the spot. After consuming enough food to satisfy a small army, Kim and I decided to take our weapons and stroll around the property, checking out the creek and its enormous trees. We had to clamber around a bit, to avoid getting our feet stuck in the mud. The only sign of cattle ever having been grazed here was the occasional cow paddy. No deer sign was evident; not that we would have shot any.  After a couple of hours, we laboriously made our way back to the camp. As we approached, we saw a muddy old Ford pickup truck parked in front of the old shack. We couldn’t see him, so we figured the rancher was inside. We walked up to the doorway and the door swang wide open, with the rancher standing spread legged in the doorway, folding his arms across his chest. “Ah need to talk with you boys!” he said sternly. The warm friendliness of the night before was a mere memory, an uncomfortable memory with his present affect. The rancher’s face was frozen into an impassive grimace as he said, “Kiyum! Now, Ah’ve bin knowin’ yore daddy for a lot o’years, son, an’ Ah don’t want to have to explain to heum how y’all come up here and got yersef kilt. Y’all boys are gonna have some visitors, tonaght, so Ah thaynk y’all had better git your shit packed up and git the hell outa here, pronto.” Kim was dumbfounded.

“Visitors? How come?” he asked. This was not mock innocence. He really hadn’t a clue. I was getting scared, because I knew exactly what the rancher was talking about. He looked at Kim with narrowed eyes and said, “Whadda you mean, ‘How come?’ boy? After that shit you pulled up in Lavonia’s store, today?” He continued, “If’n yore daddy and I hadn’t been  knowin’ each other all these years, son, I’d just say, “Fuck ‘em!” and let those ol’ boys have at it, but that wouldn’t wash so well with yore daddy; nossir! So, jes git your shit packed up and git outa here! Hear me?”

With that, the rancher stepped out of the doorway and walked to his pickup. He never even acknowledged my presence. The pickup truck drove off in a cloud of dust. Except for the gradually dying noise of the truck engine, silence hung in the air like a damp dish towel. Kim turned to me, a crazy look on his face.

“Get your gun, dude. Let’s go back up the creek. We can take ‘em!”

“What, are you crazy, or just plain stupid?” I screamed. “Didn’t you hear him? We’re gonna be visited by a whole bunch of pissed off rednecks tonight, and I’m not stickin’ around!”

That said, I hurriedly gathered up all of my belongings and threw them into the back seat of my car. All of my belongings, that is, except my Kabar, which I made sure was strapped to my waist, and my rifle. The rifle lay on the front seat, right next to me.

“It might only be a .22”, I thought, “but it’s better than nothing.”

I called to Kim, who was still inside the shack, “You ‘bout ready? It’s gonna be dark, before long. We better get a move on!”

Kim fumbled around, getting his stuff together. All in all, it took us about thirty minutes to get out of there. We passed the once friendly red ranch house with its lush lawn and fruit trees, and turned onto the gravel road which led into town. Looking at the house as I drove past, I noticed the old hound dog was nowhere to be seen, and the front door was closed. The windows were dark and the rancher’s pickup truck was curiously absent from the driveway.

Trees framed the gravel road, providing shade during the day, and an ominous blackness that night. It wasn’t dark, yet, but it might as well have been. We passed Lavonia’s grocery, the scene of the crime. Light shone in the windows. Customers still milled about. The very same grocery clerk, who had witnessed Kim’s regrettable and very badly chosen behaviour, stood on the front porch and stared at us as we drove past. We made eye contact for a brief instant. I wondered about the two unfortunate black ladies, and worried about what the repercussions had been on them. Hopefully, the townies just blew it off and were only annoyed at the two college boys who had trespassed into their reality.

We pulled our vehicles up to the little gas station and tried to engage the pumps. Nothing happened. I walked alone into the well lit gas station from the imminent sunset outside.

“Need to get some gas, man”, I said to the young kid leaning behind the counter, reading a magazine. He was about my age, but, unlike me, he did not have long hair tied in a pony tail. Instead, he had white sidewalls.

“Ain’t got no gas!” he snarled, hardly looking up at me.

“Look, man,” I said, “We just wanna get outa here, OK? So, let us have some gas, and we’ll be on our way.”

“Ain’t got no gas!” he repeated, this time more loudly, and with a bit more force. I was scared, young, and stupid. I walked up to the kid, cleared leather with my Kabar, and stuck it right to his belly, stopping just before I penetrated the skin.

“I said I want gas, and I want it now!” I demanded. The clock was ticking. ‘The visitors’ would soon be upon us, and it was fast getting dark.

“Fuck you!” was his response. “Go ahead and stick me, asshole!”

A look of violent, angry defiance was in his eyes. I was desperate. I had drawn my knife, shoved it up to his abdomen, and it had done no good. Now what?

A loud, unmistakable ‘click-clack’ shattered the tense stillness of the gas station, as Kim crossed the threshold and chambered a shell into his twelve gauge shotgun. Out of the blue, the gas station attendant’s expression changed from angry defiance to abject fear. There’s no mistaking the sound of a shotgun being chambered, and a shotgun doesn’t require much accuracy on the part of the shooter for it to blow its target into bloody, mangled pieces.

“Somethin’ wrong, dude?” Kim asked, in an almost musical tone, as he approached the pair if us with a malevolent grin on his face, his glazed eyes dancing with merriment. For once, his insanity was reassuring.

“Alright, alright, fuck you both!” the gas station attendant screamed. “There”, he said doing something with his right hand, “I just turned the pumps on! But, I want to see my money, first.” We each quickly paid him and hurried for the door. He bellowed after us, “Now git yore gas, and git yore asses outa here!”

This is precisely what we intended to do. As Kim and I filled our tanks, I saw the kid in the gas station madly calling people on the phone. I motioned with my head to Kim, for him to see the kid, as well. Once the laboriously slow refueling process was finished, we quickly replaced the nozzles into the gas pumps and rushed into our vehicles. We raced down the gravel road to the paved two lane Farm to Market Road, which led to the freeway. Whew! We had escaped.

Or, so it seemed. In my rear view mirror, I saw several pair of advancing headlights from following pickup trucks. Each truck had a bed full of armed men, every one holding a rifle or a shotgun. It seemed like we were being chased by several hundred trucks, but it was more likely we were only being followed by about a dozen. Yessir! My economical Chevelle with its one barrel carburetor sure filled me with confidence that night, as the pickups gained on us. We were in Klan country, and I had no lack of understanding about what would happen to us, should we be caught. Years later, in that same area, a poor unfortunate would be dragged to death behind a pickup truck and make the evening news all over the country. With the accelerator pedal digging a hole in the floor, I leaned forward in my seat and stared into the growing darkness ahead of me, as if changing my position would make me go any faster. Kim was right behind me in his Volkswagen bug. At least he had a shotgun. All I had was a .22. The trucks were gaining on us. “Come on, freeway!” I screamed to myself. The sound of my voice gave me a transient feeling of reassurance. I could smell my own fear. My tongue was dry. We were going to die. It was going to be an ugly death. They were going to catch us. Closer, closer, they came. It was getting dark. We were surrounded by an age old forest on both sides of the road. This was a forest so thick; it was even shrouded in darkness at noon. There wouldn’t be any witnesses. We would just disappear. Two students from the University: up in smoke. The rednecks would have a field day with these two college boys. It would serve us right, too. Kim was stupid. I was stupid for ever having gone off with him. I knew better. The penalty for our stupidity would be a terrible death. The lead pickup truck was now close enough, that in the faint twilight,  you could see the driver’s face in the rear view mirror. He looked excited. He was grinning. They were going to get us. We’d never make the freeway. It was almost over.

Unexpectedly, the trees parted, and a freeway sign loomed ahead, framing the gateway to our salvation with a welcome lighted entry. The convoy of pickups and its armed cargo immediately began to fade from view. Kim’s VW was right on my tail. We crossed the freeway and drove onto the entrance ramp alone, joining the swelling company of potential witnesses. Our pursuers had given up the chase. They had evaporated into the darkness, just like cockroaches disappear in a kitchen when you turn on the lights. I told myself I was never going anywhere with Kim, again, ever, once we got back to Austin. This was just too close. I sank into the driver’s seat, barely able to hold the steering wheel, after such an ordeal, and began to relish the thought of a hot shower and a good night’s sleep in my safe, secluded dorm room in the penthouse of Roberts Hall on the University campus.

Yessir! It’s downright heartwarming to see that good ol’ Texas Governor Rick Perry is continuing a fine old Texas tradition, maintaining the name of his family’s hunting camp, “Niggerhead.” It’s too bad he had to bow to impending pressure from liberal outsiders, and paint over the rock announcing his deer lease, just because he wished to avoid scrutiny, as he ran for President. Heartwarming, indeed! It’s nice to see that some places still keep things up, just the way they used to be: Tradition! Maybe we, as a nation, can go all the way back to separate restroom facilities and drinking fountains, and segregated schools, if ole Rick becomes President. Had it been that way back in Flynn, Kim and I never would have gotten into any trouble. Those two black ladies would have had to have bought their groceries some place else, and that would have avoided any conflict. Yessir! Bring back the good ol’ days!

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About Stefan Jacke

MagicRobert presented me with a vellum document, composed in an insane script. We were in a well secured vault in the Michener Library. His face exploded into a broad smile, as he saw me recognize the words, "That government governs best which governs least." It was a copy of "On Civil Disobedience" in the author's own hand. The experience called to mind a conversation Henry David Thoreau had with Ralph Waldo Emerson, as Thoreau sat in a jail cell, incarcerated for protesting the Mexican War. Emerson asked, "David, what are you doing in there?" Thoreau responded, "The point is, Ralph, what are you doing out there?" Once, long ago, I jumped off of big red trucks, lifted weights, and cleaned toilets for a living. Then I wrestled drunks, ran around in circles, and got splattered with blood and all manner of body fluids for a living. Now I enjoy the stillness of early morning in my rocking chair on the porch, with a hot cup of coffee, trying in vain to forget the past. Thank you, Robert!
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