Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Jerry Reed Dead at 71

A sad day.

R.I.P., Snowman. Around the time of Smokey --linked as if you don't know it--seen below in the video accompanied by Jerry Reed's "East Bound and Down," like everyone else in the country, the Barnes family was into trucker lingo and Citizen's Band radio. While Mom and Dad hung out with Uncle Walt (not my uncle) and Mac, his wife, playing cards or shooting the shit, I would sit with their son Sid and draw pictures of the various tractor trailers we knew using washers and nuts to get perfectly round tires, and rulers for straight edges. Over those summers we must have filled reams of paper, every Friday night. My knowledge came from what my uncles drove, and I didn't always know what parts referred to what exactly, but I would watch Sid and mock up what he drew (he was a couple years older than me) and I was cool for assimilation. And I knew all the words to "Convoy" where he didn't, and that helped me fit in, too. I could probably still draw a cabover Pete if you forced my hand.

We would sit there and draw for hours--they didn't have a TV that worked--while the adults talked and drank beer and smoked, sassed around and told lies, and they would get so intensely into it that certain things like children would get ignored, and Sid and I would look at each other quick and slip outside to shoot BB guns at lightning bugs in the cool slip of the crick that ran through the gully behind their double-wide. When we got tired and sweaty we would quit and go back inside. Uncle Walt had a habit of picking up odd things and doing odder things, in his travels as truck driver and handyman, like bringing home old washers that sat gathering rust outside his house, bags of concrete, stray tile or shingles, even a set of what I later learned were lobster pots, though we were 300 miles from ocean, or the time he brought a monkey home for a ragged couple days, or the time he and no one else--not even my Ma--commented on the perfect loaf of turd the dog laid one night in the living room which everyone in the house steadfastly ignored. . . or the one time we went to a local gas-up.

Uncle Walt and Dad and a bunch of other men talked and swore and drank home-made liquor and wine and whatever beer was on sale, while in the near distance bearded old men with freshly painted engines and old Allis-Chalmers and Farmall tractors, all chuffing engines and adjusting belts while people watched. Children were everywhere and had carte blanche as far as behavior went, and 'it' went a long way toward explaining some things about girls, in my case, watching my teenaged brother and his friends slip off into the woods with red-head girls of their recent acquaintance to come back flushed and hitching at their drawers. But the incident I'm talking about involved a heated discussion about the size of some women's certain endowments and how they enhanced or did not enhance specific acts of love. I'm paraphrasing.

Uncle Walt, in the midst of this discussion, shook his big old gray head at the things said, sighed, pulled at his beer, and when the discussion reached a pitch, stuck his hand inside one of the two or three shirts he always wore and pulled out a very recognizable, but somewhat smudged, fake breast. 'Now boys, if she's got more titty than this, it's all a waste." 

Everyone broke up laughing and I wonder to this day why in hell Uncle Walt carried it that day. I mean, how could you know that subject would come up? I might admit to a fetish or two myself, but I don't carry the accoutrements with me to gas-ups, either, so I'm safe. Walt's still around--became part of the family through his nephew's marriage to my sister, in fact-- though I don't think he's a reader of this blog (yet) and he and my dad, for reasons unknown to me, don't get along now, but whatever. It's a thing I should find out for my own well-being and curiosity, this fake breast stuff.

That's the really interesting part of the story, but there's more to tell about how at night everyone up and down the mountain would sit around a CB radio and talk when a landline or visit would have been much easier and more private. I guess it harkened back for them to the days of getting easy gossip via public phone lines. I remember all our handles: I was Red Lightning, my sister was Pooh Bear, my brother Country Boy, dad Dragline, mom Dragonlady, the list could go on. A local kid got really into it and stole the Rubber Duck handle from the song Convoy and would sign off late at night with his call letters, "KHK9901, KHK9901, the Rubber Duck base." All around you'd hear the telltale double-click (chk-chk) of people depressing the handset twice in quick succession to tell the Rubber Duck that indeed, they had heard and acknowledged his sign-off. Then it would get quiet, and through my open bedroom window I'd hear the crick running, some crickets, the rattle of dog-chains, the occasional screech owl or car. I don't like to traffic in nostalgia normally--it's almost always an irreal emotional trap--but my kids here in Revere MA don't get that. Maybe they'll hear the fade of driveby radios and the melodic Arabic being spoken by the men next door as they gather on the deck and drink their coffee in the same way, but my fear is that they won't. I hope they're paying the kind of frenetic attention to life I was apparently paying to it in the '70s.

Though come to think of it, I might regret that. ;-)

Have some Jerry Reed, and be good.


Rusty Barnes said...

God I wanted that Trans Am.

Rosie said...

There is so much I love about this post, I don't know where to begin.

You've got to find out what the deal was with that fake tittie. Do not let that man go to his grave carrying that secret.

Mary Akers said...

Well, hey, Red Lightning. I love this post. Always, Skinny Dip.