Bar Exam Nine

The High Moral Plane of Urban Cattle Rustling

We humans are often guilty of animal abuse, outside of the fact that we kill and eat other creatures. But, putting consumption aside for the moment, we have done worse. We have insulted our food.

I witnessed such an event, and personally witnessed the mammal that is the centerpiece of this story, while walking up to buy lunch at a fast-food burger outlet. Yes, guilty as charged. But in this case I stood with mouth open for a good ten minutes just to try and mentally digest what I was seeing. Then I became upset, so disgusted at the scene and the callousness it signified, that not only did I skip lunch, but rather went home and called everyone I knew to make some noise and at least protest the situation.

One of the people I called was my biker friend Grizzly.

By sunset, when the first picketers arrived with signs, the animal in question had disappeared, as had Griz. The restaurant chain’s PR firm, realizing their huge error in judgment and sensing a tsunami backlash of more public opinions like my own, decided to keep the incident quiet. The offending animal had been removed, by what means they did not know. They would say nothing further.

Grizzly knew of the removal, in fact was guilty of participating in it, but didn’t realize that suddenly, in the eyes of the law, there was no problem. That there was no animal. And no crime reported. But not having been informed of this, Grizzly and his two quintessentially American outlaw friends went temporarily on the lam.

It was only in the last years of his life, some decades later, that he told me his version of what had happened.

* * *

“Whoopdeefriggin-MMOOOOooo!” yelled Edward P. “Grizzly” Smiley III, the largest of the three large men seated in the front of the pickup truck. Actually, a term like “pickup truck” usually signified an object possessing a great deal more unity. This vehicle was more an assemblage of disparate elements wired and welded and tied together, with only a vague idea of locomotion as a final goal. Though it did possess a Louisiana truck license plate, roll of its own accord, and have the potential to carry a significant amount of material, it had little resemblance to what is standardly called a pickup.

A single bench seat was mounted in the front for the driver and passengers. Beyond that, the rear wheels and undercarriage were exposed. Two rough strips of foot-wide pine planking were bolted to the rear frame on either side of the drive train, extending just past the rear tires. Normally one to four motorcycles were chained and bungee-corded to ride back there. This day, secured by dozens of flexible cords, the place of honor was filled with a bellowing, live, two-thousand-pound bull with a blue ribbon pinned to its natural cowhide derrière.

“My two wildish companions, we have secured ourselves a place in bovine history, freeing the King of Cattle from the infamous shackles of The Man!” yelled Grizzly in glee. He stuck his head out the window. “The Man is defeated once again and the Flying Gonads are the willing instruments of that defeat!”

“Okaayyyy, The Man defeated,” said Crazy Charlie, pulling on a beer.

“Have you ever noticed those purple swirls around the moon?” said Weird Harold.

The men, all members of the Flying Gonads Racing Club, had stolen the animal from its tether, directly outside the front doors of the Highland Road Burger King in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They were proud of their accomplishment. Though they were, to a man, meat-eaters (with a vengeance), they had liberated a noble animal from “the absolute worst sort of cracker cultural aberration,” as the Griz put it. Similar actions in the past had often required that the Gonads temporarily disappear from their normal stomping grounds between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

The last time an incident of note to the authorities had occurred, Griz had hopped on a friend’s ‘52 Harley-Davidson Duo-Glide, equipped with standard suicide clutch and hand shift, and hauled ass out of town without even calling his partner. He knew the cops might question her and he didn’t want her to have to lie about his whereabouts.

He planned to hang for a few days in the Hoo Shoo Too, at Charlie’s place, a remote area at the dead end of a gravel road near the Comite River. Crazy Charlie had housed him for a week and then put him in contact, through intermediaries, with The Family in a similar off-the-map bandito haven near Austin. Griz’d traveled to Texas, where he liked the folks he met, and as usual established himself as a central voice of reason within a month.

He lived off intermittent mechanic work and odd jobs, ate his VA-prescribed medication, and was happy with his quiet, happy life.   Was even thinking about bringing his babe over to Texas. He hadn’t expected to draw attention to himself ever again.

Until he’d come back to Baton Rouge to visit and seen the fast food bull.

The local Burger King management team had decided to bid on and buy the Louisiana State University Agriculture Fair’s prize animal to prove that, despite widely accepted rumors to the contrary, the King served only the very very best in beef. Then as a publicity measure designed to call attention to the quality of their products, they had seen fit to display the unfortunate beast at the entrance to their establishment just outside the gates of the University, where an expansive banner announced the bull’s eventual fate in large fluorescent orange lettering to the scholars and intellectual icons of that prestigious seat of learning.

The bull snorted wildly and rolled its eyes pitifully each time it got a whiff of its medium-well predecessors to the grinder, which was often. Another sack of steaming burgers walked out the door and past the bull’s twitching nose every two to three minutes, the gaily-decorated paper containers exuding the aroma of charred flesh.

The animal looked none too happy when the Griz and his two companions, Crazy Charlie and Weird Harold, pulled up in the parking lot.

The three members of the Flying Gonads Racing Club had originally arrived at the fast food outlet with raging appetites and a holy mission to procure an assortment of three dozen specialty burgers for the Club’s evening’s repast. They had not truly believed the phone calls they had received from me that afternoon about an animal in distress, and if anything my do-gooder’s message had only served to inspire their hunger.  Burgers, yeah!

But the Griz stepped into the asphalt parking lot, took one look at sad-eyed “Lucky King Leo Bargedweller IV, LSU Overall Grand Champion & Blue Ribbon Winner: $45,000 of prime Whopper!” and realized that their mission was much different than mere bags of meat and buns. And extra ketchup for Harold.

No. Griz was adamant. There was such a thing as conscience and moral responsibility, even when it came to hooved entities, and there was no way in the world that he was going to allow this great beast to be degraded and then reduced to a stack of uniform grey patties, all so some money-hungry corporate geek could build a bigger plastic empire. No way. He liked his food anonymous, the Griz did, and here it was staring at him with big brown eyes. No way was “Leo” gonna get ground up into sanitary portions.

Action was necessary.

Even if it meant they had to start driving twenty miles further for their burgers in the future.

“We do this for the oppressed everywhere,” orated the Griz.

“What the hell,” said Charlie. “Won’t be my first jailbreak.”

“Is that a comet?” said Weird Harold.

So, in a spontaneous explosion of empathy, the three Gonads liberated Lucky King Leo IV. Charlie created a diversion, lewdly propositioning all five teenaged burger-slingers, simultaneously attempting to fart the first four notes of “Hold that Tiger,” the LSU football team’s fight song. Charlie always knew how to make a scene.

While the panicked youngsters ran to the rear of the building, breaking the handle off the burglar alarm in their haste, and then locking themselves in the meat freezer, the Griz and Weird Harold led and secured the large animal to their makeshift truck bed. The liberated bull seemed to realize what was at hand, quieted, and complied with their requests while maintaining a certain demeanor of cattle-ish grace .

And off they went, oddly enough making good time and quick turns.

“Damned thing handles a lot better with all this beef on board. Somebody thank King Leo,” the Griz yelled as he slammed the truck into a couple of abrupt diversionary shortcuts through the urban neighborhood.

“MMMMmmmoooo,” said Weird Harold, sticking his head out the window. He couldn’t see very far, his eyes being temporarily irisless black orbs due to the ingestion of a minute though spiritually effective amount of a native Louisiana mushroom. He considered his evening dose of fungal caps both a healthy appetite stimulant and a karmic cleanser. “You are some kinda big damned cow, though, Leo. Never seen one this color, either. Or with this many legs,” Harold opined.

The Griz suspected there would be a massive dragnet out in no time: cattle rustling was historically dealt with in serious fashion in the South, even if this particular cattle unit had a name like Lucky King Leo. Griz told his compatriots in crime that he figured to sell the animal cheaply, at least to cover his gas money, to a Cajun rancher friend of his who’d been looking for a good breed animal to liven the gene pool of his herd, but who like most small businessmen working the land could not afford a creature that came with a five-digit price tag.

Charlie approved. “This way our Leo back there gets fed and pampered the rest of his life just for the heavy duty of getting laid regular. Seems the way somebody named King should be treated, don’t it?” said Charlie.

“The Grizzly is the King of the Tundra. I am Grizzly. I also should get laid,” proclaimed the Griz, raising his paws off the steering wheel into what he assumed was a position signaling imminent procreation with another large mammal.

“Can I take Leo’s place?” asked Weird Harold, who seemed to be hallucinating more heavily as he stared out the passenger window at the towering oak trees whipping by.

“That one looked like a baseball player,” said Harold in a rare moment of clarity. “If giraffes could play baseball.”

* * *

None of the four individuals was ever investigated, much less incarcerated, for cattle-rustling. There was no dragnet, no police search.    As soon as the local franchise had alerted corporate offices about the theft, they immediately shut down any further knowledge of what had occurred.  They reimbursed the $45,000 and told the Baton Rouge burger manager to forget that the unfortunate PR plan and its abrupt removal had ever happened.

King Leo lived a long life in South Louisiana, and happily never again traveled to any venue that celebrated serving his kind between toasted buns.   He had many many progeny.

Grizzly also had a number of healthy and inspired offspring, while still navigating a maze of life-changing adventures, and settled down a bit in Baton Rouge.

Charlie went underground, and there he willingly remains. I think.

Harold stopped eating mushrooms and spent many of his last years “born-again” as an evangelical visionary, though fellow believers were surprised at how often he let loose a loud “MMMMmmmoooo,” when inspired by the spirits to speak in tongues. He was weird, they all thought.

Copyright ©2018 Jim Gabour

Bar Exam, Part 4

Gonads at Magoo’s

Two days after St Patty’s, the huge mobile contraption pulled to a full stop in the middle of Chimes Street, in front of the legendary Magoo’s Bar:

… stories from former residents and business owners fondly recall the area, particularly Chimes Street, which has long had a bohemian mystique. In its way, it was the Greenwich Village of Baton Rouge, with a beatnik vibe in the Fifties, a hippie vibe in the Sixties, a druggie vibe in the Seventies. There was a slightly dangerous edge to it — the kind of place that students loved but that made parents nervous.

There was the head shop in the 70s that sold cigarette papers, water pipes, and bongs, and Magoo’s bar with its famous beer-can collection and infamous St. Patrick’s Day street parties featuring green beer.

In those days the bar’s owner never met an extravagance in behavior he couldn’t top.   This good-natured fellow’s bar sat in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, snuggled up to the very perimeter of Louisiana State University. An institution which itself will never outlive Randy Newman’s lyrics: “Good ole boys from LSU, go in dumb, come out dumb, too.”

But the infamous Flying Gonads Racing Team were not dumb, no. The dwindling number of bikers in the loosely-knit band of motorcycle enthusiasts were out to use the leftovers from the recent St Patty’s holiday to recruit new members, even if it meant signing up an unintentionally educated college boy or two.

There was a serious merrymaking opportunity at the same time, of course.

The “Party Wagon” turned out to be a converted beer truck, bought cheaply and quickly from a university fraternity. Though it got bad gas mileage on the highway, the refrigeration unit still worked well, and the industrious frat brothers had already drilled and sealed holes for the installation of three taps on either side of the truck body. This allowed six kegs to be tapped simultaneously while an additional six were kept cold and on reserve inside the insulated truck bed.

Two principal organizers – and the best mechanics — from the club, Crazy Charlie and Grizzly, had been hired by the trust-fund-endowed Greeks to rework the engine, brakes and electrical system. Thus the Gonads were among the first to know when the truck hit the marketplace again.

It was a good deal. The buy came with seven leftover kegs of green beer already in place. It seems that the Greeks had been unable to maintain their desired pace on the recent St Patty’s Day. Only two days before, they had set their chairs on the fraternity house’s bare lawn at 8am and had begun power-drinking the tinted beverage as a salute to the sainted Irish hero.

Their location, quite near several campus ministries, allowed them to toast those supposedly less-enlightened spiritual institutions in many a gallant lift of the pint and gusty recital of remote classical origin. However, in spite of valiant efforts at consumption, the twenty members present on the morning shift had only been able to empty two sixteen-gallon kegs of the bright chartreuse liquid before similarly colored public upheavals began to set in at regular intervals. This did not deter the pace of consumption.

One unfortunately well-synchronized outward burst occurred just as the lead limousine of a rather formidable politician’s funeral turned the corner onto the street that fronted the frat house. The limo’s sole horizontal occupant was not celebrating St Patrick’s Day, and his well-connected family was not amused.

That very afternoon the Dean of the University had retaliated, only allowing the fraternity to remain on campus — on strict probation — if it agreed to ban all alcoholic beverages from the premises, and, of course, if it got rid of the Party Truck immediately.

Griz pulled it into parking mode in front of Magoo’s the next Saturday morning. By noon it was decorated, and the rooftop packed with baskets of individual cocktail weenies, each skewered by a tiny Irish flag, also furnished by the fraternity’s former partyers. The miniature meat tubes had been part and parcel of the discreet acquisition of six cases of the product, which had been discarded in a dumpster behind a strip-mall supermarket when management discovered that the bulging cans were almost eighteen months beyond their “sell-by” date. The Gonads, however, did not see this time lapse as a matter for consideration.

Weird Harold and Crazy Charlie had volunteered to ride on the top of the truck and toss the newly-acquired party favors. At noon, they were already in position, each with a gallon milk jug filled with green beer, and the parade was preparing to roll.

Dozens of riders from across the area had shown up on their Harley-Davidson “hogs” to show off their rides and provide escort. They carefully lined up their bikes across the street in four neat rows, kickstands down and front wheels all slanted uniformly to the right. The sun glinted off what was enough chrome to cover a mid-sized naval destroyer, a blinding but glorious sight. Most of the waiting masses were amazed at what the Griz and Gonad Co-chair Crazy Charlie had been able to put together on such short notice.

“We are the purposely forgotten people of this town, you betcha,” the patriotic Griz yelled over the engine-cranking roar of another wave of arriving bikes. “At least until today.” Things were looking up for the recruiting process.

By the time Grizzly got behind the wheel of the Party Wagon, a rather voluptuous drama major – Harold’s “niece”, it was rumored — had taken the middle of the bench seat to handle the truck’s cab-top public address system. A rather cross-eyed political science major also scrambled onboard to the passenger window position to distribute crudely mimeographed Gonad recruitment leaflets. By then the “forgotten” men and women of the club, and their fellow bikers, had already put a serious dent in the contents of the onboard kegs, and had themselves all but forgotten why they were gathered. It was only after Griz had blown the Wagon’s deafening air horn for five minutes, thereby drowning out all conversation, and actually put the vehicle into gear, that the crowd all started scrambling for their Harleys in an attempt to quickly get behind the beer source.

Scrambling… a little too quickly.

Griz didn’t notice that all six taps were still wide-open as he began to progress forward down Chimes street toward Highland Road, spewing a foamy green wake behind both sides of the ongoing campaign parade.

He also didn’t notice that Charlie and Harold had come seriously under the influence of verdigrised liquids while waiting atop the truck for the parade to start, and had been passing the time since they ran out of beer by napping, piles of flagged sausages melting all around them in the sun.

Lastly, the Griz didn’t notice what happened when the first prospective parader tried to bring his Hog upright in the middle of a row of ten. It all seemed to happen in slow motion.

Harley dominoes.

Spangled Electra-Glide crashing into leather-trimmed Duo-Glide crashing into Candy-Apple Sportster crashing itself into its meticulously chopped and elongated neighbor, which somehow kicks its engine over in the process, idling at a high rpm, falling out of neutral as it hits the ground, spinning toward the next line of bikes, hitting them, one after another careening to the asphalt, raising a blackboard-fingernail series of prolonged metallic crunches and crinkles, each set of handlebars and kickstands and foot pegs forcing their way into the tangled guts of its neighbors, owners trying to leap into the middle to stop the progress of falling bikes becoming helplessly caught by the sheer weight of the machines and falling over themselves, reaching for support, starting the same disaster in row after row after row after row, until the street in front of the Magoo’s was a 2500-square-foot block of howling bikes butts and elbows.

Nope. Griz didn’t notice that. He was already rolling, and looking across at the fine figure of a woman who was announcing the oncoming Flying Gonads first-ever post-St Patty’s Day parade. This was, in the eyes of Grizzly, one finely educated lady. Yessiree. Ready for a Bachelor’s degree, she was.

As the truck turned right off Chimes street and onto Highland Road, that same much-admired young woman turned up the PA and began declaring the worth of bike-riding humanitarians over the crunching rhythm section soundtrack of ZZ Top — Griz had the eight-track in the cab cranked up for dramatic effect. What occurred, though, besides the beer still pouring from the taps into the gutters of the academic village, was that Charlie and Harold came to, remembered their duties with a start, still numbed from their first gallon of lager, and started madly tossing greasy parade favors.

The Party Wagon turned right again, south onto Dalrymple, deeper into the University, intending to make a loop of only one block, but then, with a pop and an explosive ka-whoosh, its tenuously rebuilt engine broke down dramatically, a loud, hood-raising explosion erupting mid-street directly between Pleasant Hall, an admin building, and the Speech and Theatre Department. Smoke and steam began to fill the air, along with renewed green streams from the kegs which had been shaken back into active life. Charlie and Harold, still a tad dazed and thinking they would be labeled slackers, began throwing Vienna sausages with all their might, yelling happy expletives upon particularly successful tosses.

The first gaggle of weiners was followed by an infinitely larger second wave which emanated from on high in the expanding multi-colored cloud of chaos that now completely blocked the street. Tiny refined meat products were everywhere underfoot. As a cordon of newly righted bikers arrived at a rush, the first three Harleys hit the new sausage slick, sliding across the street to wedge under the back of the beer truck with a screech and a bangblooeyboom.

Neither the full-voiced drama major nor ZZ had diminished in volume or intensity of delivery, in spite of the slight inconvenience of their conveyance’s ongoing death throes. The motor was sputtering though still running, beer was gushing, Grizzly was under the hood with a fire extinguisher, the boys on top of the truck were emitting a never-ending stream of Vienna sausages like they were throwing out life jackets on the Titanic, and the growing crowd of student gawkers – all of whom recognized a good thing when they were soaked with it — were filling and refilling cups at the side of the Party Wagon.

It was later reported that Sergeant Leweltus R. Johnson, a campus policeman, was first to walk right into the mouth of the beast. He had just returned from his prolonged lunch hour when the truck lurched into a final smoking full-stop less than ten feet from his streetcorner traffic assignment. Instantly he was hit with a dense rain of tinted brew and cylindrical meat by-products. As he came forward, putting his hands around his mouth to shout out the possibility of arrest, if not grand jury arraignment, Charlie noticed him and decided to toss the prospective biker an extra large double-handful of poor man’s pâté.

The sergeant’s upraised hands acted as a funnel. Before he knew it a soft brick of sausages had filled his windpipe. His breath already expended, he quickly began to suffocate. He couldn’t clear his throat, though he coughed and hit himself on his chest repeatedly. He began to run about in circles hoping to attract help, pointing to his mouth, its surrounding face turning an unflattering shade of blue.

The political scientist in the cab was the first to notice. He pulled open the door, jumped to the ground, dropped his flyers, ran to the officer’s side, slapped him to get his attention, and managed to turn him around. Then, just as the future politician had witnessed on more than one occasion during his protracted volunteer days at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital, he encircled the officer’s rib cage from the rear and applied the quick upward jerks of the Heimlich maneuver. Causing an immediate meaty rainbow of most, though not all, of the offending sausages.

Sergeant Johnson, seeming to instinctively know his role in all this, fell to the ground in a faint. The student volunteer rolled him over so that the officer’s was face up, and removed the last of the blockage. The supine victim, however, refusing to be upstaged in this exciting action sequence, stopped breathing.   Whereupon the hero knelt down, pinched the officer’s nose shut and blew directly into his mouth one, two, three times.

Sergeant Johnson coughed, inhaled, gagged, sat up, and took notice of the fact that a pimply-faced young man, probably a pervert and more than likely a political liberal, had just pressed his mouth onto his own. Johnson realized then that he was contaminated forever, gripped his badge in manly fashion, sighed deeply and immediately passed out again, happily unconscious of his continuing situation.

He took medical leave the next day, and was said to have retired early to become a reclusive monk of some vintage spiritual order. The Party Wagon was scrapped after its one and only day of full use, but not before all seven kegs were emptied. Sixteen cases of minor food poisoning via processed meat were reported by the University Infirmary that night.

The Gonads recruited only one college boy that day. Me. By sundown the two-wheeled gents had allowed me a trial membership, even though I only drove a 1965 British Triumph Tiger by way of a scooter, rather than a full-blown Harley-Davidson. My UK engine’s puny 500 cubic centimeters vs the US Harleys’ massive 1200cc motor was disregarded as a matter of universal goodwill.   Plus, they needed the dues money.

I remembered that fact of affiliation, and realized what else had happened, when I came fully to consciousness two days later and tried to brush my teeth. My mouth was still a bright chartreuse. “Oh shit, I am a marked man,” I thought. However, in my case, this did not cause a consideration of entering the religious life.

Copyright ©2018 Jim Gabour