At the Corner of Southdowns and Joe’s East Texas BBQ
I was eating my second raw dozen, balancing a paper plate full of food while standing on the slippery banks of the Amite River, a man dedicated to the consumption of the honoree bivalves of the Oyster Festival in Amite, Louisiana. Just across the river and up the road from New Orleans.
Then suddenly I heard my name called out loudly somewhere behind me. I turned to see a oil-covered, snaggle-toothed, long-haired biker in full leathers racing toward me with his penis in his hand.
The crowd parted instantly, jumping back and yelling as if a rabid dog had been dropped into their midst. Fathers put their hands over the eyes of children. Mothers stood agape and transfixed. A gaggle of teenaged girls tracked the movement of the tumescent organ across the fairgrounds with a synchronized formation of half a dozen pointed index fingers and a moist cloud of snickers and giggles. I ignored the gasp from my own female companion. She also had reacted quickly and now cowered behind me holding onto my shirt as if she was afraid of falling into the yawning gateway of the erotic maelstrom that had suddenly opened in the middle of a family-oriented food fair. My opinion of her diminished. I would have actually thought her better prepared for such an eventuality. I know I was.
Because Crazy Charlie had always known how to make a big entrance.
“Get a look at this,” yelled Charlie as he approached. He had a big smile on his face, which looked even crazier than I remembered, what with the loss of the majority of his teeth and the fact that his right eye now looked permanently forty-five degrees out to starboard. All options were always wide open for Charlie, who had never taken environment or social setting into consideration when it came to the way he lived his life. He did what he was supposed to do, no matter where he was doing it. That was the way he operated. Now he was acting for all the world like it had been just yesterday we had last seen each other instead of the two decades that had actually passed. He seemed entirely unaware that displaying his sexual organ at a public gathering might somehow be deemed inappropriate by anyone.
“Charlie,” I said. “I remember what it looks like.” A full-blooded Choctaw Indian, he had been legendary among the university art school and biker bar crowds alike for the size of his Native American member, and had on more than one festive occasion such as this taken to “airing the peace pipe”, as he would announce gleefully. Thus my lack of surprise.
“Nope, you ain’t seen it like this,” he said to me now, still hefting the fleshy tube. “Just happened little over a month ago. Not used to it yet. It’s shorter. I blowed almost four inches off, but I still got the biggest dick in the Deep South. And now I got me the ugliest one, too.”
I couldn’t help myself. I looked. I had to, or he would have stood there displaying himself for hours. Sure enough, the thing protruding from his pants was still of overwhelming proportions, and the end of it was scarred and twisted, looking rather like the bad side of the Phantom of the Opera’s face.
“Sure enough, it is still big and it’s uglier than ever, but I think you’d better put it back up before we both get busted,” I said.
“What?” Charlie looked around, and for the first time became aware of the crowd he had drawn. “Oh.” He hefted his burden back into his pants and buttoned up his fly. “You’d think these folks never saw one before,” he said, staring down one particularly angry-looking elderly woman who was standing less than a yard away.
“Bring back some memories, maam?” he asked directly to her face.
“Well, I never!” she said, spinning about and walking off quickly.
“That does seem more likely,” mused he.
“Charlie, this is a coincidence. First I’ve been hearing from Griz, and now here you are. But wait. Manners. I’d like to introduce my friend,” I said, reaching around with my left hand and dragging the poor woman forward. “Louise, this is Crazy Charlie. Charles, this gracious and charming person is Louise. I am quite sure she’s never met anyone quite like you.”
“No one ever has,” he said, matter-of-fact. He smiled that wicked cracked smile again, and taking her hand gently in his, he bent over and gave it a delicate touch of his lips. “Enchantez, mam-selle,” he whispered, looking up into her face with his soulful brown eyes. Charlie reserved his cultured side solely for the ladies. He was by no means an unintelligent man and could talk the talk, when he wanted to.
“I promise that I am not as crude as I might seem, and I have always appreciated the sight and presence of a beautiful woman. You, my lovely Louise, are among the first rank of those.” He bent and kissed her hand again, leaving a faint trace of 10W30 lubrication there, and then smoothly unfolded into his full six-foot-five height. Louise had not yet spoken, but was now staring at Charlie with something less than full terror.
I broke the spell. “So how did you manage to ‘blow off’ a portion of your anatomy?” I asked politely.
Charlie was ready to tell his tale. He had always been one of the best around a campfire or a keg of beer when we both rode with the baddest band of hogs in the South, the Flying Gonads Racing Club. I still had the club shirt, which featured a pair of Harley wings flapping atop a wrinkled scrotum. Charlie was among the club’s reigning elite, along with the moderately psychotic Weird Harold and the overly-large ex-Marine-sniper Grizzly, who had also recently reappeared in my life.
With a vintage Triumph motorcycle and a university teaching job in Baton Rouge, I was something of a ringer mascot to the true outlaws, but was brought in as a full member after a long fully-bourboned night of my own barroom storytelling. And because my superficial respectability proved useful in getting the other members out of jams, legal, amorous, and otherwise. I liked almost every one of the two dozen members, bad or no, and their respect meant a lot to me, romanticized or no.
In what later proved to be a pivotal event, I had thirty years earlier managed to spring Charlie himself from jail at 3am on a New Year’s Day, even though his one allowed call for assistance had caught me in the worst possible shape. I remember that the phone was ringing as I opened the door, stumbling into my living room on the return from a riotous evening at the legendary Southdowns Lounge, my disoriented state abetted by Rodney the owner and long-time friend . I was admittedly drunk, stoned, hallucinating wildly (in those innocent psychedelic days LSD was deemed a recreational form of social rebellion), and possessed of only my Trumpet (as the American Harley-Davidson crowd called my British bike) as a means of transportation.
I put the phone to my ear. “Jimmyboy, glad I caught you,” said a familiar voice. “This is George Gunner. You remember me?”
I listened. The voice was swimming through my disoriented memory seeking a face that when found did not have the label “George Gunner”. I knew I knew this person. I did not know a George Gunner.
“I fixed your carburetors a few weeks back.”
Crazy Charlie. Sure.
“Where are you, Charlie, and why are you calling yourself George?”
“Easy, man, easy. I’m down here at the Central Lockup. They busted me on a DWI, drunk as a skunk, and they identified me from my wallet. I don’t know how long that’ll hold.” Charlie had handfuls of arrest warrants out on him, for everything from firearms violations to possession charges. He had had a dozen different identities in the first year that I had known him. “I need someone to fetch me and quick,” he continued. “I got bail money. I just gotta be released into the custody of someone sober. They won’t even take your name. Can you come?”
“Charlie, I’m totaled myself. I’m illegal as hell. I just congratulated myself on making my way home walking six blocks from a party, and you want me to get on my bike, drive five miles of freeway, and dance right into a cop station?”
“I need you, man. You’re the only one that can pull this off.”
The pause was minimal. “Be there in half an hour,” I said without conviction.
It took me ten minutes to get on my warmest rain suit, keeping to normal clothes instead of the leathers I would normally wear on such a frigid night, hoping that I wouldn’t give the police one more clue as to my true nature and current condition.
I had done my best imitation of a sober and straight citizen, and had sprung Charlie without a hitch. Actually, riding my bike at the speed limit in the freezing cold on an interstate highway full of other inebriated New Year partyers had shocked me into a fairly admirable state of near-sobriety. I took Charlie another fourteen miles home to his bandito lair out in a bend of the Amite River, at the very end of a dirt path that went by the name of HooShooToo. I still don’t know the origins of that name, but suspect it has roots with Charlie’s people. It was and I suspect remains wilderness, as The Man gladly chooses to ignore its existence.
Charlie had no shirt and no shoes, but hadn’t even shivered when he dismounted from the back of my bike. He nodded his head as I left him. He owed me a big one, the nod said. From that day forward, he was my protector. No one, no one could mess with Crazy Charlie’s bro. Word got around quickly that the mad biker had put me under his wing. It was indeed absolutely bizarre. Even the faculty at school treated me differently. I was intimidated myself by the power Charlie’s specter seemed to possess in such different corners of the community, and how after another two years, his gift was undiminished. I was finally relieved when I was offered a job back in New Orleans, away from the Gonads’ territory.
Charlie had never owned a phone. He said he liked to see faces and ears when he talked. His shanty had no actual address, and there was absolutely no chance of finding it without the company of its sole resident. He seldom even scribbled his signature, much less a letter, and he didn’t like to travel outside what he considered his tribal grounds. I’d heard from friends about three years after I left that his troubles with the authorities had gotten worse, and that he had gone even further underground. The Flying Gonads had disbanded. Weird Harold was killed in a car wreck. Grizzly had been born-again and was, for a while, preaching at Veterans’ Hospitals. Charlie was still there somewhere, they all said, somewhere near the HooShooToo, living below the surface of visibility to The Man. Thirty years had passed.
Now I had accidentally come back onto the fringes of his territory, and Charlie again stood in front of me, arm on my shoulder, acting like he hadn’t a worry in the world.
“I blew off my pecker defending my dog,” he started. He turned back to Louise, with a gracious look. “This might be unsettling and a bit lurid to a lady, Miss Louise, but I assure you it is true. If you’d rather not hear, I can understand.”
“No, no, Charlie,” she stammered. “I want to hear about your, uh, pecker.” I took back my former lowered estimations of Louise.
He made a courtly gesture with a sweep of his arm and a bow to her, and proceeded. “I was standing in the parking lot outside Joe’s East Texas Barbecue in Baton Rouge, you know, in that bad neighborhood off Dalrymple, me and my new pup, BeeBee, a Doberman. Just as good a dog as you could want, except a tad too friendly for my taste. I was actually hoping for something meaner. But he was a handsome mutt, and he liked me, and housebroke the day I got him, so what the hell, I figured.
“Me and the boys was having a few beers — like I said, this was just maybe eight weeks ago at most — and we knew that we was putting ourselves in a rough place, what with going into the Devil Boys territory and all, but we wanted some of those damned ribs, and it’s the only place you can get ‘em. Everybody was packing, and me, I had that old double-barreled shotgun I sawed off back when you was running with the ‘Nads, Jimmy.”
I remembered the weapon well. Hard to forget such an evil-looking device. A blue-steel twelve-gauge, cut to less than two feet including stock and usually loaded with saltshot, since Charlie in spite of his posing had never wanted to actually kill anybody. Though he’d do it when it was necessary, he had often told me, just to keep everybody honest. And he’d do it for me, if I needed it done. I had assured him that I did not anticipate such a necessity. Two hair triggers, break-open action, no safety, and a recoil kick that I’d once seen crack a creosote fence post where Charlie had braced the gun’s butt.
“I had my piece tucked inside my pants, cocked, loaded, and ready to go,” Charlie explained, “because the Devils don’t give you any warning on their home turf. They’re just there, and they’ll do you, and they’re gone. Steal your car, grab your woman, shoot your ass, don’t matter to them. And that’s just what happened. This young guy zooms up on an old mid-fifties DuoGlide panhead, don’t even stop, grabs my pup, and is blowing up gravel trying to get out of there before we can blink an eye.
“So, me, I yell, then reach down and grab the shotgun to let the bastard have it, but the hammers get caught on my belt as I pull. I already got my finger on the triggers, and when I jerk to get the gun free first one, then the other barrel pops. Incredible noise. Blast took off the whole front of my pants along with the top third of my dick. Scared the guy on the bike so bad he dropped my dog and hauled ass.
“I didn’t feel anything at all the first minute, then the salt started setting in and I thought I was going to die with the burning. The owner had already called the cops, and he came outside carrying his own pistol, but everything was over and it was just me standing there, empty shotgun hanging on my belt and no front to my pants. All the boys I was with had hauled ass because they knew some shit was gonna to come down, and the law was on its way. Couldn’t blame them. When I told Joe the barbecue man what had happened, he brought out a garden hose and helped me wash the salt and blood off. I had to stand there squeezing it for the twenty minutes it took for the ambulance to come, or I’d of bled to death. BeeBee had run into the kitchen and hid under a table. Joe wouldn’t let me inside though. He was afraid of being too nice to me. He’s gotta live with them Devil Boys, day in day out. So there I was out in the lot, a longneck beer in one hand and my bleeding pecker in the other, and I didn’t even get to eat my barbecue. Pitiful.”
Louise and I nodded. “Pitiful,” we agreed.
“But it all worked out fine, ‘cause even if I don’t got the size anymore, the ladies seem to like it because it’s got that twisted scar on top. One of a kind.”
“I wouldn’t have expected anything else, Charlie.”
“Oop, shit, here comes a cop. If you need me, I’m around. I owe you, bro.”
And, just that quickly, without another word or handshake or exchange of connections, he disappeared from my life again. My bro Crazy Charlie. Gone back invisible.
Today, the Sunday paper’s weekly “Wanted by the Law” grid of six hunted desperados encased a one-inch-square depiction of a strangely-familiar brazenly-smiling toothless grin.
It is possible that “George Gunner” is once again on the run.
Copyright ©2018 Jim Gabour