I felt kind of funny knocking on Robby Ramseur’s door that Friday night; it had only been two weeks before that he had run me off. I had just dropped by that night about seven thirty and he had got purty upset, him not knowin’ I was coming and all. So I was kinda surprised when he had called me and asked if I could come by and drink some beer and smoke some dope. Robby and me had been purty friendly in high school, playing football together and drinking beer down at the Meadowbrook Supper Club. But things had changed a lot in seven years. We had both dropped out of college and joined the Air Force, and had both come back to Ranlo after service; that was where our lives took different paths. Robby was always smart and a real good talker; he was always good with the girls and was right confident ‘bout everything. I used to be smart, a real good speller too, but that all came to a halt after the accident. It was right after I got home from the Air Force and my momma had begged me not to but I had refused to listen to her and had gone out and bought a used 650 cc BSA motorcycle. Boy it was a purty one too, had the front end raked out and was painted candy apple red. I hadn’t had it but about a month when I hit the railroad tracks at Harden a little too hard one night and lost control. The next thing I knew I woke up three days later in Garrison General Hospital and got to hear from a doctor that I had received brain damage and would never be the same. I could tell something was wrong right when I woke up ‘cause it seemed like my thinkin’ was slower, and when I tried to talk that was slower too. It seemed like maybe I had lost about a quarter of my smartness; the doctor would only say that my mental faculties had been “somewhat diminished”. I’m sorry I am goin’ on like this but this is just the way I am now, like I act like somebody who don’t think things through too good before acting on them.
Anyway, that’s why I had felt funny knockin’ on his door. In a few seconds a real purty dark haired girl had come to the door and opened it and said “well come in Ricky”. I knew who it wuz right away ‘cause it wuz Robby’s wife Sandy. She wuz a year ahead of us at Ranlo High School and they went together in high school; in high school she was kinda cute but real skinny, but boy had she blossomed. She was “big up top” now if you know what I mean and sorta looked real hot. She had never said two words to me in high school but that night she smiled real big, told me to have a seat, and went to the fridge and brought me back a Heineken beer. Boy did I feel like something, sitting there in that living room across from that purty girl and suckin’ on a ‘spensive imported beer. She tole me Robby would be out in a minute and she just sat over there lookin’ awful good and askin’ if I had a girlfriend and such as that. Course I tole her I had several, but she wouldn’t know any of them, ‘cause they didn’t live around Ranlo. Truth was I did’nt have none, not even one, and had no idea if I would ever be able to get one. Seemed like I just got all tongue tied when I got around women; I member I wasn’t always that way. Why right when I got home from service I had dated a real purty girl from High Shoals, and she liked me a lot. Fact was that we were sort of a couple when I had that motorcycle accident, but I never heard from her after that. And I reckon that being tongue tied around girls is just the way it is gonna be from now on; I reckon that’s the way it is in “somewhat diminished” land. I reckon you can see how hard it is for me to keep my mind on something, ‘cause I have done wrote over seven hunded words and ain’t got nowhere close to gettin’ the real meat of the story started. I am gonna try to do better, to concentrate more. It ain’t easy.
So I am sittin’ there and I drink that Heineken beer purty fast and Sandy wants to know if I want another one. “Has a cat got a ass”, I ‘member tellin’ her. See I blurt out stuff like that sometimes. My older sister calls them “inappropriate comments”. Whatever you want to call them it didn’t seem to bother Sandy one lick, ‘cause she just got up and got my empty bottle and motored her fine ass into the kitchen and brought me another one. Bout that time Robby come walkin’ in from the hallway, and he was all smiles. “Hey my buddy Ricky”, he had said; like I said, it had surprised the shit out of me that he had called me at all, and here he was actin’ like we wuz back in high school. Well ‘course I wuz friendly right back at him and he set down and started talkin’ ‘bout how many mobile homes he had sold at the “Highway 74 Mobile Home Extravaganza” over in Gastonia. I wa’n’t one bit surprised that he could sell trailers, ‘cause like I said before that boy could always talk, and he wuz smart.
“Maybe I could get you on over there”, Robby had said, but I tole him that I wuz happy working over at the air filter plant. I was what they called a mold breaker; they had this conveyer belt that pushed along air filters and there I would sit with my big ol’ thick gloves on and as the molds came by I would grab them and break them apart and toss the metal molds in a box and let the filters go on down the line. You had to wear them gloves ‘cause them molds wuz hot as hell, just having come out of that big oven that kinda melted the whole thing together. I always figgered there had to be some kind of a joke in there about “breakin’ the mold” but I ain’t never been able to come up with anything that I thought would work. I’ll consider suggestions.
So it looked like Robby and Sandy were doin’ well, real well, ‘cause I had noticed a new Porsche car in the driveway when I had come up. I don’t know if you pronounce it “porsh” or “porsh-a”; I hear conflicting ways of sayin’ it, but I reckon you know that is a real ‘spensive automobile and it set me to wondering how many of them trailers the old boy wuz sellin’. I knew he had to be the one bringing in the moolah if anybody wuz, cause Sandy had already tole me that she had a low paying job as a secretary in a cotton mill supervisor’s office. Just didn’t seem to add up.
Well we set around and jawed some more and miss sweetbuns pranced to the kitchen and got me another one of them Heineken beers. I thought ‘bout asking her if I could take some of them empties home with me; I knew a guy who had a little tool where you could cut the top off of bottles and it would leave you with a kind of a glass. I thought about it and then it left my mind just like that; that’s how it is sometimes when you got that “somewhat diminished” deal. Then all of a sudden Robby started talkin’ ‘bout goin’ somewhere or other, ‘bout going over toward Stanley to see somebody and wanted to know if I wanted to go along. Well I wuz borned on a day but it wa’nt yesterday, or you could say I wuz borned on a night but it wa’nt last night. I kind of go back and forth on which one of them I use, but I reckon you get the idea. So I jumped into it and asked Robby what this wuz all about, him being so all fired mysterious and everything. This is what he said.
“Ricky, I am gonna go over to an old farm house around Stanley where Zeke Taylor stays; I’m going there to sell him ten pounds of marijuana”. As Robby was saying this he was twisting up a joint and then lit it up and handed it to me. I took me a big ol’ hit off that thing and give it back to him. Then Sandy puffed on it some and give it back to Robby and he hit it and give it back to me. I took a big ol’ hit and figgered it was time to delve into this thing a little further.
“Well damn”, I said, “I ain’t seen ol’ Zeke forever. How the hell is he doing?”
“Apparently he is in the marijuana distribution business”, Robby Ramseur said, laughing as he puffed on the joint. “You wanta ride along?”
It didn’t take me but a second to make up my mind ‘bout that. “Why sure, Robby, if you don’t mind. I ain’t never been to a drug deal and it would be fun to see ol’ Zeke again. Can I take a beer with me?”
You may have noticed that I sure made up my mind in a hurry, kind of like I didn’t reflex on it long enough, but that is a trait I have had for a long time, even back when I wuz smart. Fact is I got a good example of that very thing. Back in the tenth grade when I wuz at Ranlo High School, where I wuz in the Beta Club until I got kicked out for getting a D in conduct one six weeks, we were all in an assembly one day over in the auditorium. I dismember what the assembly wuz about, maybe a homecoming football game or something, but ‘bout all of the 600 students were packed in there. Me using the word “dismember” reminds me of a joke ‘bout ol’ Jeffrey Daumer. “What did Daumer say when they wuz questioning him ‘bout all them body parts in the fridgaderry?” Then you get somebody to say what, and then comes the punch line. “He says I dismember”. It’s a purty good joke and I tell it bout once a week if I can member it.
Anyhow there we were in assembly and fixin’ to wind up and ol’ Charley Aldridge, the big fat principal who always wore a white shirt with two pockets in the front that always had a pack of Winstons in each one, he got this idea of seeing if anybody had perfect attendance for the whole year. So the old fat boy, in that deep voice of his, growled out “All people who have had perfect attendance so far this year stand up,” and a bunch of people stood up. ‘Course I did too, knowing I had been out six days, none of ‘em being excused absences. Then he said “All people who have had perfect attendance for two years remain standing,” and a bunch set down. What he done was go on through every year up until wa’n’t but me and two others standing and then he said “All people who have had perfect attendance ever since they started school in the first grade remain standing,” and them other two set down. Now I knew damn well that I did’nt have no perfect attendance, even for the last two weeks, but I reckon I just got caught up in the moment. So there I wuz, standin’ all alone, and then old Fatty did something I did not expect. I figgered he would just congratulate me and I would sit down, but oh no. He said in that big ol’ booming voice, (ya know he wuz a actor in some outdoor play), “Well come on up here son,” and there I wuz, walking up to the stage. They wuz a bunch of people I knew who were already hooping and hollering ‘cause they knew I wuz full of it, so it was real noisy when I got up there with Fat Charley. That’s when the shit really hit the fan.
Ol’ Fatty looked at and smiled and said “so you have had perfect attendance all of your school days from the beginning,” he said, wheezing out the words from those tobacco blackened lungs of his. He had a kind of longing look in his eyes like he needed a Winston real bad.
“Well no” I said, and he looked at me kinda hard.
“So, you have had perfect attendance for at least eight years, right?” he asked, the wheezing gettin’ a little louder.
“No sir, not exactly,” I had said. Bout this time the students were starting to laugh out loud, ‘cause they had figgered out that I wuddn’t close to havin’ any kind of perfect attendance. Then ol’ Fat Charley leaned down from his 6’ 4” height and breathed his nasty Winston breath on me and man he was really wheezing now and said in a low voice “Is this a hoax?” and I said in an equally low voice “yes it is,” and with that he took a big ol’ rattly deep breath and said “take your seat.”
Ya know I never heard a thing about that whole mess from anybody in authority, ‘course other students kidded the hell out of me. I ‘member one upper classman, Fred Pasour, asking me why in the hell I had done what I had done. I tole him that I just got “caught up in the moment.” I’ll never forgot that quare look he gave me, like I was some kind of a nut. But after a few weeks nobody mentioned it anymore.
But the point of this whole story was to make what they call a “comparison,” two examples of me making a decision on the spot and not thinking ‘bout it at all, one when I was smart, and one when I was like I am now. You might need to read this over twice but I think you get the idea.
I had an English teacher at Ranlo High School in the tenth grade who would describe what I just did in these last few hundred words as going “off topic,” and I reckon that is what I have gone and done. So when I left off I wuz gonna go with Robby Ramseur to the drug deal with Zeke Taylor and I wuz allowed to carry one of them Heineken beers along. As they say “I wa’n’t feelin’ no pain,” what with them several beers and then puffin’ on that marijuana. So we said goodbye to Miss Sweetbuns and went out and got in the “porsh” or “porsha”. I really wish I knew which pernounciation was the right one. Maybe some day.
Turned out that Zeke’s house was out in the country between Stanley and Lucia. Robby was drivin’ real careful like on the way over there, I reckon ‘cause he didn’t want to attract no attention what with all that marijuana. Hell, that open Heineken I was sippin’ on would have been the least of his problems if one of them Gaston Rural Policemen woulda stopped him.
So we come to a sharp curve in the road and I see Robby put his right blinker on and we turn off onto a little sandy driveway that goes right out through the middle of a field. It was fall and they wuddn’t nothin’ in the field; probly had corn in it but I couldn’t tell for sure. Wait a minute, now I ‘member that it had little stubs in rows where the corn had been cut off. Another example of that “somewhat diminished” thang I got now; things pop in and out of my brain without any rhyme or reason.
It was a long driveway through that field and I could see a small house a couple of hundred yards ahead right out in the middle; it had about four or five big trees around it and I could see a light on in it. Well we got up within a hundred feet of the house and somebody come up real quick over to Robby’s side of the car. Robby stopped and rolled down the window; it was Zeke Taylor, and he wa’n’t one bit happy, not one lick.
“Who the hell is that?” he said, sticking his head almost through the window in front of Robby. Zeke did not say this in a friendly way, more like he wuz real mad.
“Now Zeke, it’s just Ricky Hartsell, you remember him from high school; he just wanted to come along for the ride. It ain’t no problem, I swear,” Robby said, and I could tell he was kinda scared ‘cause I could hear his voice go up several oxtaves.
“Hey Zeke, how ya doin’,” I had said, not payin’ too much attention to what Zeke had said, kinda figgerin’ that maybe he was just havin’ a bad day.
“I don’t like this shit, not one bit,” Zeke said, and his voice had gotten louder and more mean sounding. Robby continued to tell him that me being along wa’n’t no problem and after a minute he said “well come on in”. Robby pulled on up the driveway under one of them big trees and we got out and followed Zeke into the house. It was a small wood framed house, one story and had a front porch and an L shaped porch off the back. We stepped up onto the back porch and followed Zeke in. When we got inside in what wuz obviously the kitchen Robby placed the large bag of marijuana on the kitchen table and emptied the contents out. The pot had been compressed into rectangles about five by eight inches and ‘bout four inches thick. I learned later that the dealers called them “bricks”.
It wuz ‘bout this time that I got my first real good look at ol’ Zeke and so happened he wuz lookin’ real hard, and I mean real hard at me, and it wa’n’t no friendly look. He had on faded jeans and a jean jacket and had on a cap made out of the same material, sittin’ on top of his head with wild frizzy hair comin’ out from underneath it comin’ bout down to his shoulders. He had some of them wire rimmed glasses you used to see my Granny and John Lennon wear, not to insinuwate that they knew each other, but just that they both had that style of glasses. All that was a far cry from what I ‘membered Zeke lookin’ like, but it had been a few years since I had seen him. But the wildest thing about him wuz his eyes; they wuz real glassy and moved about real fast, like they wuddn’t really focusing on anything. I know it ain’t the same but it reminded me a little of those gag glasses that have swirly lookin’ circles rotatin’ around. Maybe you had to be there. But it was a mite disturbin’ to me since the last time I had seen him he was a nice lookin’ clean cut kind of guy.
So there I am having ol’ Zeke hard lookin’ at me, and then I guess he had looked enough so he turned around and went over to a chair in the corner and brought back a paper poke and handed it to Robby. Robby stuck his hand in it and brought out a bunch of bills, looked like hunderds and twenties, and then he sat down at the kitchen table and started countin’ all that money. Robby was usually such a cool customer, but he wa’n’t lookin’ so awful damn cool at that moment. Fact is he wuz lookin’ nervous, and I mean real nervous. Bout that time Zeke turned his attention back to me and said “come on in here to the living room and meet my buddy.” So I followed Zeke down the narrow hall into the living room and there was standin’ a little round man with a beard. He wuz purty much wearing about the same outfit that Zeke wuz, but he had a big ol’ pistol in the waistband of his britches.
“Tiny, this here is Ricky, a boy from high school. For some Goddam unknown reason Robby brought him along,” and with that Zeke walked up behind me and grabbed the back of my arms and Tiny run his hands along the side of me and down ‘tween my legs. For a minute I thought I had fell into a mess of homos, but then when I heard Tiny say “he’s clean,” I figgered out that I had just been frisked. After my heart slowed down a little I just stood there while them two eyed me. Tiny had a big ol’ chain tied to his britches and attached to a big ol’ billfold in his back pocket. It kinda made him look like some kind of motorcycle guy.
Then Zeke went back to lookin’ hard at me again, and them eyes were spiraling around again. He retched behind his back and out he come with a pistol, ‘bout the size of Tiny’s. ‘Bout this time I wuz wonderin’ purty hard about if I had really made a good decision in comin’ to this party, but I done tole you that my track record wa’n’t so awful good with them things. Anyhow Zeke started wavin’ that big ol’ gun around kinda in a circle around his head. Didn’t make me feel any better, not one lick, but after a few minutes of that he kinda settled down and even managed to ask me how I had been doin’. Since that night I have done a ton of thinkin’ ‘bout what transpired that night. (Notice that big word I just used; don’t it seem out of place? Nother one of them things that just happens since the accident; I can go for months and not have one of them tiny, tiny smart spells, and then one just falls out of the sky. If it makes you feel any better I ain’t got no idea what it means. Seems like I did right when I wrote it but that just went away.)
Tiny was just standin’ there while all this wuz goin’ on; in fact he looked kinda bored, but when I heard Robby hollering for Zeke to come into the kitchen they both got on the stick and we went back into the kitchen, me walkin’ between them. When we got in there Robby was standin’ up over the table where he had a bunch of piles of twenty dollar bills and hunderds, all stacked up nice and neat. When I looked at Robby I noticed he was shakin’, and not just a little. Think ‘bout somebody comin’ off a two week liquor drunk. That wa’n’t all that was shakin’, ‘cause when he started talkin’ I could hear it in his voice. It was crackin’ and squeakin’ somethin’ turble.
“Zeke, you know this is not right, you know damn well that it ain’t even close,” Robby managed to get out. Now it was Robby’s time to get the hard look, and it sure felt better to be watchin’ it on somebody else than havin’ it thrown at me. ‘Bout that time Tiny whipped out that big ol’ gun of his and Zeke pulled his out and they both started waving them around, Zeke sayin’ “money’s right, shut the fuck up. You better put that money back in the poke and get out of here before I change my mind and send you packin’ with nothin,” Zeke shouted, and you could tell he meant every durn bit of it.
“Man’s right,” said Tiny, and I guess with all the gun wavin’ and rough talk Robby Ramseur decided it might a good time to cut his losses and get out. Me, I wuzn’t too much worried ‘bout things now that it was Robby who wuz getting’ all the attention; so when Robby stuck the money back in the paper poke and looked at me and said “let’s get the hell out of here” I wuz fast on his heels. Ol’ Zeke and Tiny followed followed us to the car, Zeke sayin’ “ don’t ever come back, asshole” and Tiny chimin’ in with “come back when you can stay longer,” laughing and waving his big pistol around.
“Damn, I hope they don’t shoot at us; this is a brand new car,” Robby said as we went back down the sandy driveway out to the highway, but nothing like that happened and we headed back to Robby Ramseur’s house. Well when we got there, after a real quiet ride back, Robby said, “see ya”; wa’nt no “come on in for a Heineken and some smoke” or nothin’ like that. Must admit I wuz kinda lookin’ forward to seein’ Miss Sweetbuns strut around one more time, but wa’n’t in the stars. So I got in my old car and headed home.
Ever since that night I been thinkin’ ‘bout what happened; I started to go down this road a few pages back but got sidetracked. That “diminished faculties” thang rears its ugly head right often. Anyhow, in my ponderin’ I think I got it figgered out. Robby called me back and invited me to his house after he had run me off before ‘cause he wanted somebody kinda big to go along with him to Zeke’s, Zeke bein’ kind of an unpredictable character. I understand how Robby would think like that ‘cause I wuz right much of a bad ass in high school, what with gettin’ in fights and such; my nickname wuz “Dirty Dick”, Dick bein’ short for Richard. Might be a little confusin’ but I think you get it. All that makes sense. Once I got that part figgered out the way Zeke was actin’ had a little logic to it; he membered me as somebody who got in a lot of fights so he assumed Robby wuz bringin’ me along for a little “insurance” in case things got a little crazy. I reckon Zeke’s line of thinking wuz about right, at least woulda been when I wuz a senior in high school, but that wuz a long time ago and I can’t remember the last time I’ve been in a fight. Guess I come to the conclusion that what little bit of brain power I had left would be better served by not havin’ a fist up against the side of my head.
So that’s the story. I don’t reckon that I really got any regrets ‘bout any of it; thinkin’ back on it it wuz purty exciting, except for when I wuz scared to death I wuz gonna get shot or die or both. I have heard that people ought to take somethin’ away from an experience, and I guess that I did just that. I have vowed that I am gonna try to quit makin’ such fast decisions, and take a lil time to reflex on things when something comes up. Course with the way things float in and out of my brain I guess I will need a little luck on that matter. But some nights when I am sittin’ at home with nothin’ to do I think about Miss Sweetbuns and how she was prancin’ around bringing me them Heineken beers. Then I think ‘bout maybe goin’ by there when ain’t nobody home and scratchin’ in their trash cans to see if I can find some of them purty green Heineken bottles. Even started out toward their house to do that very thing one night not too long ago; got almost up there when I ‘membered that I could not ‘member that guy’s name what has got that tool that cuts off the top of bottles.