Tim Oliver – LikeTheDew.com https://likethedew.com A journal of progressive Southern culture and politics Sun, 17 Feb 2019 15:51:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.0.3 https://likethedew.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/cropped-DewLogoSquare825-32x32.png Tim Oliver – LikeTheDew.com https://likethedew.com 32 32 Brickbats and Beer Cans (Part Two) https://likethedew.com/2011/08/20/brickbats-and-beer-cans-part-two/ https://likethedew.com/2011/08/20/brickbats-and-beer-cans-part-two/#comments Sun, 21 Aug 2011 00:00:37 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=29257 Gene's closet-drinker  theory made perfect sense to me. This was the history of a domestic drama that you could hold in your hand. "This whole thing is really about people, isn't it ?" I asked. "Yeah, it sure is," Gene nodded. "From the people who let you dig, to the people you dig with, to the people who walk up wondering what we're doing, to the people whose past you're uncovering."

Suddenly, he looked uncomfortable, and looked around before wincing and saying "I've got to talk to you and Mark" ...

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Gene’s closet-drinker  theory made perfect sense to me. This was the history of a domestic drama that you could hold in your hand. “This whole thing is really about people, isn’t it ?” I asked. “Yeah, it sure is,” Gene nodded. “From the people who let you dig, to the people you dig with, to the people who walk up wondering what we’re doing, to the people whose past you’re uncovering.”

Suddenly, he looked uncomfortable, and looked around before wincing and saying “I’ve got to talk to you and Mark.” The way the Big Boy’s divided the bottles at the end of a dig was to draw for the lowest number. Even if you were the one in the hole when it was found, it might not necessarily be yours. It was the only way to be fair about it. What Gene told Mark and myself was that we wouldn’t be included in any of the draws. In other words, they thought their club was already big enough. It hurt Mark’s feelings more than it did mine, he worked with some of these guys in the insulation trade. I put on my best face, thanked them for the good times, and for everything they had taught me. John felt bad , so, he treated us to burgers and onion rings at the Crystal Beer Parlor. We talked of forming our own club. “Have you seen the guy they get to go around and ask folks if they can dig ? He looks like Jethro Tull ! ( I didn’t bother telling him he meant Ian Anderson ) . He has had way more doors slammed in his face, than not. Thing is, it doesn’t bother him at all. He just keeps smiling, even if they open the door to cuss him out. He says, ‘You never know when they might change their minds .'”

So, we struck out own our own. We enlisted the help of a couple of younger men, Larry and Bill. Larry worked as a plumber’s helper, and Bill in construction, and both were quite familiar with shovels. Almost immediately, Bill nabbed us a lot to dig. It was four blocks off the river, on East Broad Street, right across from Fellwood Homes, a rather notorious housing project. “Get there early, and leave early,” was John’s advice. We were pretty excited, and showed up at seven a.m., rested, and ready, none of us hungover, which was an amazing thing. John and Mark stuck probes in the ground, finding a privy right away. It took a long time just to get to the brick structure. We began finding the usual Lea & Perrins, some medicine bottles (but, nothing cool like Dr. Ward’s Venereal Cure or tincture of cocaine ), a handful of marbles (those crazy kids!) ,and a broken inkwell. Around midday we were approached by two men. One was shirtless and shoeless, wearing frayed jeans held up with a rope, and carrying a paper sack. He smelled like fortified wine gone rancid, and an undeterminable pork product, badly corrupted. The other guy was better dressed, but, hung in the background.

“Anybody wanna buy any dog leashes ?” the shirtless man asked. He had a sack full of dog leashes, none of them new, and no two the same. It was as though he had looted a collection of dog leashes. We, politely, declined. He walked over, and stooped over our hole, hands on his knees. “Wha’chall doin’, diggin for gold ?” Bill smirked and said, “We dropped a quarter. We’re trying to find our quarter,” while I silently entreated him to be nice. The man stared for a moment longer, and with no warning, pitched over face first into the mound of soft spoil. His nose and lips were twisted to one side, blowing little tufts of dirt. We motioned for his dealer / handler to come get him. He helped the man to his feet, brushing the dirt off his face. “Just restin’…you gennelmens take care !” They shambled off down the street with their oddball merchandise. We resumed digging, finding a doll head so hideous as to have done Chucky proud. The only thing of note we found was an aqua Henry Kuck, in the clean out. It revived our spirits like nothing else could’ve.

As the sun began sinking low, the human activity across the street began picking up. People sat on stoops, or prowled the sidewalks. The little concession on the corner that sold cigarettes, singly, and ice by the baggie, began doing more business. A young lady in pink gym shorts and a white tank top danced down the sidewalk to her own rhythm. She alternated struts and strides. A predatory-looking guy leaning against an oak tree watched her as she passed. She stopped and did that butt jiggle thing where each cheek moved separately, seemingly, of their own volition. Predatory dude was on her like a cat, jerking her pants and panties to her knees, before fleeing. Any normal person would’ve jerked them back up, even if modesty is the only contrived virtue. Not her, she took off after him, her curses indecipherable screeches, bending to snatch up a brickbat that she employed as a missile. It missed him and struck a parked car. The car’s owner stormed off a stoop, and a serious shouting match ensued. “Time to fill that hole, boys!” John exclaimed with more than a hint of urgency in his voice. We fell to it with a purpose. “What’ll we call ourselves?” Larry asked. Of course, I’d been thinking about that. “What about A&E Bottlediggers ? It could stand for anything and everything, or, assholes and elbows.” They laughed, but, we remained unnamed.

We were back at it on the same lot early the next morning. We sank a new hole, but, nothing looked promising. A truck slowed at the curb, and stopped. It was Gene, and another Big Boy, on their way to a dig, somewhere. They smiled, seemingly proud that we were doing our own thing. However, they weren’t impressed with where we were concentrating our efforts. “Y’all ought to be digging on that right-of-way,” Gene said, pointing at a narrow strip between the sidewalk and street. We didn’t think it likely. By all rights, no part of a privy should be there. Gene stuck a probe in the ground and said ,” I’m hitting bottles not two feet down!” We dug down twenty inches and found three black glass wine bottles. Though we didn’t have permission, we dug up that whole right-of-way, and the only other bottle we found was a Boone’s Farm, circa 1974. Later that afternoon, the shirtless man was back, this time alone, and carrying a cardboard box. “Anybody wanna buy any hammers?” A peek in the box revealed hammers, none of them new, all sizes. We explained that we were shovel kind of guys. Larry gave the guy two dollars ” just for totin’ those hammers around.”

There would be other digs. The one behind B&B Paint Supply on Martin Luther King Blvd. really tested our be nice resolution. The place was ground zero for aggressive drug sales and prostitution. No, we didn’t want any weed, no matter how “killuh” it was, no we didn’t want any crack, and, no, we didn’t want a date. I smiled so much my face hurt. The bottles all seemed to be on the I-16 right-of-way, somewhere we couldn’t, legally, dig. Larry, Bill, and, to a lesser degree, Mark, wanted to come back under the cover of darkness and dig that right-of-way. John and I disagreed, vehemently. Youthful and bullheaded they argued. Finally we just told them, “Don’t call us to bail you out!” Prudently, they stayed their asses home.

I wrangled the York Street dig from a lawyer for whom I had agreed to be a witness to an accident site. It was a shingle tab-covered parking lot, the dirt impacted like asphalt. We couldn’t find a privy on the whole lot. In a place where a privy shouldn’t have been, the probe struck something solid  seventeen inches down. It turned out to be an old eight inch water main installed in the 1880’s. Beside the pipe, laid end-to-end, were seven green glass John Ryan ginger ale bottles, embossed Augusta, Geo. Five of the seven were broken due to the weight of the vehicles over the years. We smiled like we had all indulged in something killuh. We didn’t know it but that would be our last dig.

A year later Bill was killed while pushing his motorcycle down the Islands Expressway, out of gas, late at night. The guy, whom John and I knew, just didn’t see him. His wake was the first I had ever attended. It was ribald, rowdy, and irreverent, just like Bill would’ve loved. I far preferred it to sitting in a strange house, trying to eat somebody’s ham and lima casserole, making nice talk with people I didn’t know, nor, would I ever see again. We joked that Bill, at that very moment, was lying his way into Heaven. I thought that aqua Henry Kuck should be placed in his casket. Mark reasoned that Bill wouldn’t want something put back in the ground that it took so much trouble to dig out. The less sentimental side of me knew he was right.

Larry wandered out to New Orleans, survived Katrina, and, eventually came back to Georgia. John and Mark, and the Big Boys all retired from bottle-digging. Now they peruse yard sales, and flea markets, to find bottles, borne from others’ sweat equity, hook, or crook. It’s a much younger man’s game, all that digging, and chance-taking. What doesn’t go away is that desire to find that buried treasure. In doing research for this article I found that in 1867 John Ryan bottles were produced right here in Atlanta. Being that there weren’t many produced, they should be worth some substantial change. All you need is a mid-19th century privy, permission to dig, a strong back, heart and hope. To put it indelicately, there may be a fortune where turds used to flourish.

Brickbats and Beer Cans, Part 1

 

 

 

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Brickbats and Beer Cans https://likethedew.com/2011/08/19/brickbats-and-beer-cans/ https://likethedew.com/2011/08/19/brickbats-and-beer-cans/#comments Fri, 19 Aug 2011 15:10:35 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=29164 "We need some fresh meat in this hole !" John hollered. No, it wasn't the shouted orders on a porno movie set. The fresh meat was going to be me and the hole was a privy we were digging in downtown Savannah. We were hoping to find some antique bottles, specifically, those of the mid-19th century. Obtaining permission to dig, we had pored over the 1852 fire insurance map that showed the original layout of the lot, and where the privy should be. It was, usually, in the right hand corner of the lot. City code, even in the 19th century, required that privies have brick sides and bottom. By pushing spring steel probes of various lengths into the ground at four different angles, these long-buried structures could be found. The probes had not revealed much on this lot, but, we pressed forward. So far all we had uncovered was a sizable pile of brickbats. A brickbat is a piece of a brick, existing as nothing until it is thrown like a "missile", and then it becomes a brickbat.

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Bottle Digging“We need some fresh meat in this hole!” John hollered. No, it wasn’t the shouted orders on a porno movie set. The fresh meat was going to be me and the hole was a privy we were digging in downtown Savannah. We were hoping to find some antique bottles, specifically, those of the mid-19th century. Obtaining permission to dig, we had pored over the 1852 fire insurance map that showed the original layout of the lot, and where the privy should be. It was, usually, in the right hand corner of the lot. City code, even in the 19th century, required that privies have brick sides and bottom. By pushing spring steel probes of various lengths into the ground at four different angles, these long-buried structures could be found. The probes had not revealed much on this lot, but, we pressed forward. So far all we had uncovered was a sizable pile of brickbats. A brickbat is a piece of a brick, existing as nothing until it is thrown like a “missile”, and then it becomes a brickbat.

I had just broken a good sweat when the little pinch-faced skinflint pulled up in his Jag. Being 1985, he was dripping in gold chains and bracelets, a polo shirt the color of lime sherbert, beige linen slacks, and Gucci loafers so thin that they looked painted onto his sockless feet. He stomped over, obviously not happy.

“You’ve got a lot of gall, buddy!” he barked. John, his brother Mark, Larry and Bill gaped in various stages of concern. “Now, hold up, swole-up…!” Larry began, John shushing him.

“I got permission from Mr. John Sapling (not his name) to dig this lot,” I explained. He seemed to calm a bit, and said, “Oh, this is my lot, his is over there,” he said, pointing to the overgrown junk strewn lot next door. I apologized, immediately, and stepped out of the knee deep hole.

“Do you mind if we dig it, anyway?” John asked. “We’ll leave it just the way it was.” That was true, we never left a hole uncovered.

“No,” he answered, then, trying to be expansive he said, “I like to do this sort of thing myself, sometimes.” We didn’t think so, but, we didn’t say it. We had learned some manners dealing with these downtown landowners of the monied class. We moved everything to the adjacent lot, and began filling the hole on his. He watched us fill it and asked a few banal questions we mostly ignored, and he left. John and Mark sank probes in the ground, found solid structure, and the digging began anew.

“All those brickbats over there,” John mused, indicating the other lot. “Most likely been dug before. We’re in the right place, now.” We dug all day, evacuating the whole privy. Finding some broken Lea & Perrin bottles, we weren’t dismayed, they existed as early as 1832, but, our hearts sank when we found the Schlitz beer can at the bottom of the privy.

“Well, that’s exactly what you don’t want to find!” John spat. “Time to fill this hole!” We did, but, not before throwing in our own numerous dead soldiers.

I first got exposed to bottle-digging when a gas station on Bay Street was changing out their underground storage tank, and found a privy clean-out ladened with pristine bottles, and, a separate hole containing a full bottle of wine, believed to be Spanish in origin, and, possibly, pirate booty. Interested in history, particularly that of pirates, and being that it was only three blocks from where I worked, I walked there on lunch break. John was there as well as another group of guys, a bottle-digging club I’ll refer to as the Big Boys. John smiled and introduced me, then, handed me a beautiful cobalt blue bottle, saying “This is what it’s all about.” It was embossed with the letters John Ryan Porter and Ale, 1866, Savannah Geo. “Wow, that looks old! ” I exclaimed. “Looks like something Robert Crumb would draw,” I added, drawing blank stares all around. It was squat, and had a pronounced top called a blob. There were some other bottles on hand, but the John Ryan garnered the most excitement. Gene, the de facto leader of the group ran it down for me.

“John Ryan bottles were made in Philadelphia, and shipped by boat to Savannah for filling. They were filled with beer, ale, mineral water, soda water, and ginger ale. There was a twenty cent deposit on them at the height of the Civil War. “

“Twenty cents?” I wondered.

“Yep. Wadn’t any bottles coming in. They had that blockade, remember?”

“Does that make them worth more than the other bottles?” I asked.

“No, what makes them worth more is, there wadn’t that many of them made. That’s the key. Age doesn’t even matter. Take this black glass wine bottle,” he said handing me a bottle that looked pretty old, if rather non-descript. It even had the pontil scar, on the indented bottom, where it was blown into existence. “Late eighteenth century but hundreds of thousands of them made, even by the handblown method. I guess you could call them generic.” Certainly they were compared with the others embossed with the names Thomas Maher, George Eberwien, James Ray and Henry Kuck in colors clear, ice blue, amber, brown, bottle green, teal green, aqua, and a reddish color called puce. Nevertheless, cobalt blue was the desired color and John Ryan, the name.

Gene and his group had been digging since the early sixties and had learned quite a few things over the years. They had collected all the necessary tools of the trade, all manner of shovels, wrecking bars, sledgehammers, picks, sifting screens, ladders, buckets, sometimes employing a backhoe if they could afford it, or, if it was practical. They knew to look carefully for the changes in the layers of dirt and trash, when to go slow and careful, when to press on, when to take a chance, when to bail. Sifting the trash layers with a hardware cloth screened box you’d fine buttons, the occasional coin that may or may not accurately date the hole, and marbles (so many that I wondered if it was once a trend for kids to swallow marbles just to see if they’d traverse the complete digestive tract ) . There were the sometimes creepy porcelain doll parts, pale and ghostly arms, hands, feet, and legs, the head with its dead doll eyes.

What the Big Boys could count on one hand were the intact pieces of china they’d found over the years. They would, quite often, find multiple entire sets completely broken. The intact pieces had been found in what’s called a “clean out. ” That was when the men known as “honeydippers” would go down in the privy to clean it out. They would remove some bricks in the privy wall, and dig out an opening, hauling the clean dirt up into the courtyard. Then, they would put the crap and trash into the hole, and seal the bricks back up. It was illegal, but, as nobody wanted to be close to the honeydippers, they were never bothered about it. The bottles in the clean out tended to be in better shape. However, digging a clean out was when digging got dangerous. Anytime you went horizontal from your verticle, unless you had the time and resources, and went further than a shovel handle length, you ran the risk of a cave-in. Nobody had been lost thus far, and, everybody kept reminding themselves that it would be a stupid way to die.

The Big Boys were set to dig a lot directly across the street from where I had worked for seven years. It was in an industrial area right outside of the ports authority. In the mid-to-late 19th century it had been the red light district, bars and brothels for the merchant seamen. It was only a block off the Savannah River, on the site of a former sheet metal shop. I begged to be included, and I was, along with John’s younger brother Mark. Several sites had shown promise from the probes. Mark and I were put on a spot right up next to the office building for the shop. From the git-go it was tough going, every shovel load hitting brickbats. We were removing more bricks than earth. It was hot, and four hours later, sweating like crackheads writing love letters, we uncovered what the probes had hit. It was a well, and we were told to start covering it back up, it wouldn’t yield anything of interest, and was dangerous to pursue. The only thing we found was what appeared to be a very old whiskey glass. Nobody was interested.

We broke for lunch and ate spicy fried chicken and drank sweet tea under the shade of a white bay tree. A primer colored pickup drove past, slowly, two guys rubbernecking, then, sped away. One of the Big Boys, Stanley said, “That’s the ninth or tenth time they’ve cruised by. Outlaws!” Outlaws were the lowest order of bottle-diggers. They dug without permission, left gaping holes and much damage. In one case they broke into a renovated Victorian home, sawed a hole in the bedroom floor, filled the room with dirt and bricks, and left it that way. They, often, crept onto the grounds of a golf course that sat over what used to be Savannah’s city dump, and left holes like oversized gophers. I imagined the Bill Murray character in “Caddyshack” having conniptions. We resumed digging, and it went easier, but, revealed nothing. The backhoe was brought in but wouldn’t be used that day. They used it the next day, and found plenty of bottles. Mark and I were expected to spend some time with our spouses on the weekend, so, we weren’t present. I felt like Willie Nelson was reputed to have said, “When my ship comes in, I’ll be at the airport.”

Months later we were invited on another dig. It was cooler weather, and this time the dig was in an area called Frog Town. It was a large, communal privy, probably serving a bar, at one point, but, had gradually dwindled to just a couple of families. Again, Mark and I dug at a spot where the probe had struck. We went at it, furiously, for two hours, and found it to be another well. This time they suggested we dig it out as it seemed full of dirt. We dug down finding badly rusted farm implements. Then, a six foot length of yellow plastic rope, which was the signal to start filling it back up.

The privy was twenty by forty feet, and had been dug out fairly uniformly to a depth of four feet. It was getting dark ( this would be an all-nite dig ) and lights run off a muffled generator had been placed in the hole. There was a sudden shout, and something knocked me off my feet. There was a bright flash and the breaking of glass. Suddenly, I was buried to my waist in dirt. Mark and I had to be pulled out. The cave-in buried both lights, damaging one beyond repair. Tired, sore and demoralized I refected that this wasn’t all fun, games and beer-drinking . If we’d been kneeling, this could’ve gone badly.

One corner of the privy had been productive in dozens of brown flasks, and a sprinkling of others, clear glass, round in shape called “pumpkinseed” flasks. Most were broken at the neck. By now, Gene knew I was a sucker for a good story, and was at a point of the evening where I needed one. He laid it out for me. “Now this old boy was a closet drinker. He’d slip out here and take him a nip when he’d do his bidness. I bet he broke these flasks on a nail he had for just that purpose. Back then, most of these privies had water in them caused of the water table and the tides. He’d break them so they’d sink so the old lady wouldn’t see them. The brown flasks were his regular brand. The pumpkinseed were Christmas and birthday gifts from friends who knew he drank.”

Brickbats and Beer Cans, Part 2

 

 

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When Books Attack: Donald Ray Pollock and the Devil https://likethedew.com/2011/07/26/when-books-attack-donald-ray-pollock-and-the-devil/ https://likethedew.com/2011/07/26/when-books-attack-donald-ray-pollock-and-the-devil/#comments Tue, 26 Jul 2011 13:38:32 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=27986 In the realm of dark, guilty pleasures Donald Ray Pollock is literary crack. His characters wander the margins of society, walking into, or, unable to escape hellish existences. Few, if any of them have redeeming qualities, indeed, they are the lumpen terrible, folks you wouldn't want to meet in a well-lit alley. Yet, Pollock's rendering of these people will not let you put the book down, you absolutely must see what happens.

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Donald Ray PollockIn the realm of dark, guilty pleasures Donald Ray Pollock is literary crack. His characters wander the margins of society, walking into, or, unable to escape hellish existences. Few, if any of them have redeeming qualities, indeed, they are the lumpen terrible, folks you wouldn’t want to meet in a well-lit alley. Yet, Pollock’s rendering of these people will not let you put the book down, you absolutely must see what happens.

Pollock’s first novel, The Devil All the Time inhabits the same territory, both geographically, and spiritually, as his 2009 collection of short stories, Knockemstiff. Set in the southern portion of Ohio known as Appalachia, and West Virginia, it spans a time from post World War Two, into the late sixties. You’ve got Willard Russell, a WW2 veteran who saw too much in the south Pacific, came home and met the woman of his dreams in a cafe, marries, has a son, then begins to fall apart when she gets cancer. His son, Arvin Eugene Russell, weathers his mother’s demise, and his father going off the rails. You’ve got a crooked preacher and his crippled guitar-playing pedophile sidekick,who, despite terrible qualities, manage to define love between partners, and a palpable longing for home. Then, there’s the lovely serial killer couple, Carl and Sandy Henderson, who troll the highways looking for hitchikers, they call “models,” so they can photograph them in death. Pollock weaves the narrative so as to place these, and several other characters, in each other’s way, to shocking results.

The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray PollockThis book is a blunt object, so prepare for a bibliographic bludgeoning. Willard Russell builds a prayer log in the woods, and offers animal sacrifices to try to save his wife. When a “starved and lame mutt” takes up at the house, Arvin feeds it scraps and names it Jack. Shoving the boy away from the dog, Willard dispatches it to doggie heaven with a .22 slug to the head, despite the boy begging him not to. He takes the dog to the prayer log and exhorts Arvin to pray loudly for his mother, but, the boy is driven to screaming “Jack, can you hear me?” Later, in the novel, we return to this grim scene and the subtle poignancy of the moment prompts me to tears.

The question arises: why read something like this? I had the good luck to be able to speak with James Dickey after a reading in Key West, many years ago. We were talking about sharks and barracuda, and he fixed me with that predatory stare and said “Did you ever notice how the most savage things in the world are also the most beautiful?” So it is with this book. I can say, without reserve, that you’ll walk away from it feeling better about yourself and those you love. It dredges up that feeling so hard to come by, these days, that of being grateful.

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Urban Coyotes: Slinking Towards Eternity https://likethedew.com/2011/03/01/urban-coyotes-slinking-towards-eternity/ https://likethedew.com/2011/03/01/urban-coyotes-slinking-towards-eternity/#comments Wed, 02 Mar 2011 04:30:20 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=19827 I remember the first time I ever saw a coyote in the state of Georgia. It was the fall of 1975 in the wildlife lab at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton. As taxidermy jobs go, it wasn’t a particularly good one, the eyes a bit wonky, the fur looking shoddy and secondhand. I was surprised to see it had been killed just up the road on a farm outside of Ashburn.

“Looks kind of poorly,” I remarked to department head, Jim Marshall. He laughed and said, "Well he never did catch that roadrunner !” I’d been an avid hunter since I was eleven years old and thought I knew a thing or two about the woods.

“I’ve never heard one,” I ventured, doubtfully.

“You can, if you get real quiet, right after dusk,” he answered ...

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I remember the first time I ever saw a coyote in the state of Georgia. It was the fall of 1975 in the wildlife lab at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton. As taxidermy jobs go, it wasn’t a particularly good one, the eyes a bit wonky, the fur looking shoddy and secondhand. I was surprised to see it had been killed just up the road on a farm outside of Ashburn.

“Looks kind of poorly,” I remarked to department head, Jim Marshall. He laughed and said, “Well he never did catch that roadrunner!” I’d been an avid hunter since I was eleven years old and thought I knew a thing or two about the woods.

“I’ve never heard one,” I ventured, doubtfully.

“You can, if you get real quiet, right after dusk,” he answered, shoving papers into a briefcase. “What are they doing here ?” I asked, emphasizing HERE, as I thought coyotes to be an exclusively western phenomenon. He looked distracted before saying,  “Theories abound, but, son you’ll have to excuse me, there’s somewhere I was supposed to be fifteen minutes ago.” We never revisited that conversation.

A year later I would see one while on a field trip to Hope Walton Experimental Forest near Cordele. It stepped out on a fire break, glancing briefly over its shoulder as it headed away from us. We had seen a mother bobcat and her two youngsters earlier in the day, and, to most of my classmates the coyote paled in comparison. Not to me, though, in that drafty old school bus on the trip back, I wondered about that coyote, what it was doing, where it was going, what would it eat for supper, would it howl for company that night? These were things I was wondering about myself, as well. I reflected on a moment from the soundtrack to the movie, “Easy Rider,”  when the Smith’s cover of the Band’s “The Weight” segues into the Byrd’s “Wasn’t Born to Follow,” the brief sound bite of coyotes yip-yowling as a western wind blows. It defined the term “high lonesome” for me, back then, and it still does, today.

I got my associate’s degree in forestry technology, moved from south Georgia, and I was working in the hookwormy wilds of South Carolina’s low country. My boss, Randall, and I were marking trees in a planted pine stand roughly eighty to a hundred yards behind a country juke joint called Snookies. As we were re-filling our paint guns we were assailed by a terrible odor. It had a seafood tinge to it, as though some ocean leviathan had swum inland and broken wind so toxic as to defoliate nostril hair.

“Whoooooo-weeee, what’s that ?” Randall wondered, his face screwing-up.

“I don’t know, but, it’s wrong !” I gagged, and we looked for the source, finding a discarded crate of blue crabs, festering and dripping in the September heat, twenty yards away. We moved away, and began to mark trees. Something drew my attention back to that crate. The coyote didn’t so much as walk up as it materialized out of the surrounding flora. The lupine snout came into focus, the ears formed, the orange eyes, penetrating and reproachful. The coat was the color of dirty peanut shells, heavily flecked with darker hair, like pine straw. The nose worked furiously, nodding towards the crate, eyes on us.

“Bo’, look at that bigass fox! “ Randall stage-hissed.

“It’s not a fox, it’s a coy-…!” interrupted when the creature, as though its legs were spring-loaded, executed an impossible sideways leap, at once ungainly, and acrobatic, as though fallen from a high caliber rifle. It was gone from our sight without a sound, no brush rustled, just an empty place where an apparition might have been.

“Goddang, did you see that ?” Randall blurted in wonder.

“I’m not sure,” I answered, and, being that it was that time back in 1977, I was probably wondering what sort of Carlos Castaneda moment it most assuredly had to be. Thinking I’d seen Mescalito, himself, without taking peyote, or, some such drivel. My coyote curiosity renewed, I began asking questions. Most people told me I was seeing a “bigass grey fox.” One longtime forester for a major paper company told me, upon hearing I was from Georgia, “I’ll tell you why they here! A bunch of richass fox hunters from over in Georgia bought what they thought was a litter of fresh-weaned fox kits, but, since you cain’t tell the difference, they wadn’t, they was coyotes, and now they everwhere! Dumbasses!” I’d like to think I was polite in my response, but, most likely, I wasn’t. Probably something about bigasses, richasses , and dumbasses, yeah buddy, thanks! Things go like they go, and we move on to different phases of our lives.

I left the forestry profession and moved to Savannah where I married the woman I love. Harry Crews wrote in “Childhood: the Biography of a Place” that when his mother moved he and his brother from the farm in Bacon County to Jacksonville Fla., he would think of pigs, and mules and chickens at odd times for no apparent reason. Things that were once commonplace and, seemingly, inconsequential made sublime imprints on the memory. They came back to remind one of a life left behind, but certainly not forgotten, and brought a measure of comfort. So it was with me and wildlife. Driving a truck for a heating and air-conditioning company, if I saw deer on the roadside, their beauty would override my desire to shoot one. If wood ducks lifted off a pond, or, bobwhite quail exploded into flight, my heart would follow them. I quit hunting and packed my guns away. I thought about the coyote, too. The one had multiplied into many. They nuzzled one another and licked their chops, tails wagging, yip-yowling as others arrived. And, arrive they would, in numbers and in places that would shock us.

Mark Twain would introduce the eastern half of America to Canis latrans in 1872, with “Roughing It.” “The coyote is a long, slim, sick and sorry-looking skeleton. He has a general slinking expression all over. The coyote is a living, breathing allegory of Want.”

As white man pressed westward with his domestic livestock he began to persecute and eliminate the coyote predators and competitors, namely, the black and grizzly bears, the cougars, and the timber wolves. It had already happened in the east, not the grizzly, but the black bears fled to the swamps, and remote Appalachia, the cougars and eastern red wolves driven, almost, to extinction. As the wild landscape of America began to change, a curious thing happened. Forests were clear cut, roads gouged, railroads laid, fences built. This created what’s known as the “edge effect,”  the shelter of the natural environment reduced to bits and pieces, sparse cover, but allowing the secondary plants, grasses and brush to flourish.

The Virginia whitetail deer grew to numbers larger than when white man arrived. Rabbits, mice, rats and squirrels benefited from the edge effect, and, the white man’s agriculture. Birds of prey crossed the sky, tilting and circling, diving to easy pickings. All of this moved westward. Ranchers put bounties on the timber wolves , and, they too had to seek remote areas. White man’s lowing, bleating, clucking and honking animals were slow-witted and oh so tasty, but, the price was too high. Eventually, there was nowhere to go but Canada.

The coyote, low and skinny on the Great Plains, watched all of this indifferently. His advantage was strength in solitary numbers, pairs, sometimes threes, and his acceptance and reliance on these lesser animals, more plentiful than ever, and nobody else’s bill of fare, for the most part. The coyote didn’t care for these pale people who carried new weapons to kill him, but, they created garbage and wasted much. They planted sweet fruit, and, vegetables, their scared and shrill fowl leaving their eggs and themselves uncovered, their corn, wheat, and fence rows supporting wild ground fowl like quail and pheasants. It didn’t take a bolt of lightning, nor the heavens opening up and a voice to say, “Go east, sorry-looking skeleton !” He was already on his way.

Today, the coyote is in every state of the union except Hawaii. Once classified as a carnivore, he’s now an extremely versatile omnivore, eating all those lesser animals, as well as fruits and vegetables, snakes, lizards, bugs, and all manner of garbage, pet food, and, yes, your pets. Given a choice of a rabbit, or a toy poodle, he’s going to chose the latter, it’s easier to catch. Fluffy the cat who uses the pet door, and has always had the run of the neighborhood is no longer safe. She’s bill of fare. I’ve read dozens of accounts of people losing pets to these new urban predators, in some cases, witnessing the killing. I’m sorry for your loss, I really am. I understand your anger and outrage. Well, okay, one person in downtown Atlanta with chickens, you know, I’m thinking you had to have been popular with stray cats and dogs too, and, not very popular with your neighbors. Not that I’m wishing misfortune on you and your pets, but, anyway, not once did I read an account of a coyote coming in a pet door, or, breaking a window to eat a pet. Watch after your pets, especially, if they’re small. Don’t feed them, outside, ever! If you have to, make sure they’re penned and well-protected. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, of course, it can.

There are two documented killings of humans by coyotes in north America. One was a three-year-old in southern California, where coyotes have been studied the longest. She was attacked and killed in her own backyard. It was discovered that her parents and neighbors had, intentionally, been feeding the coyotes. Coyotes in southern California were tested and found to have an intake of 25% human food. That’s both intentional and unintentional feeding. In Chicago, where there’s a large population of coyotes, who have been studied second longest, there are no documented attacks on people, the human food intake is 2%. The other killing was of an eighteen-year-old folk singer in Nova Scotia, who was camping alone. That one is still a mystery. Tragic as they are, at least one of them could’ve been prevented.

Atlanta is perfect for coyotes! When I moved here in 1999, I was surprised to see one run over on I-75/85, right downtown, where the graffiti tag “Vomet Knife” is, presently. Months later when I had to go a few blocks away to my jobsite, at night, there were enough rats around a dumpster for a remake of “Willard.” All of those lesser animals, plus, chipmunks, voles and moles, add the available food, our green spaces, and beautifully landscaped yards, and the coyotes have it made! In fact, they do better in the city than their country brethren, the pickings are easier, and they don’t have hunters on four-wheelers, with guns, harassing them. With regards to coexisting with them, prevention seems to be the key, as opposed to any sort of retribution. Poisoning coyotes is illegal and puts other animals at risk. Unlimbering your blunderbuss at one is illegal in the city limits, and, at worst you’d shoot somebody else, or, their pet; at best, you’d shoot your car. Trapping is difficult and costly, and, for those of you who would advocate relocation, you’re the worst nimby of all. If you trap one in Decatur and relocate it to Pickens county, it’s going to find Canton, pretty quick. You just put your problem in somebody else’s backyard. The urban coyote is going to seek another urban area.

“The twilight is the crack between the worlds,” the old Indian, Don Juan Matus, supposedly told Carlos Castaneda. One night a few weeks ago, right after dusk, I was outside with my dogs as was my neighbor Katie. She has a dachshund, Lily, and I have a Scottie, Jenny, and a DeKalb Animal Control rescue, Beryl, a Dixie dingo-Border collie mix with a generous dose of congenital Sooner thrown in. They were on leashes, milling among themselves as Katie and I talked. I live in Midtown, near Monroe and Piedmont, in an area previously known as Vaseline Valley. I thought the twilight might have been the crack between my ears when I first heard the coyotes. Two of them, across Monroe, near the proposed Beltline, and, one answering them, on a hill above Vaseline Valley. It was so real, so clear as to sound, almost fake. Katie’s pale face went whiter in the gloom as she muttered, “Oh my God!”

Instantly, I was transported back to a time when I was learning to discern the difference in the hounds, baying, so I’d know when that coonhound went to tree. Then, the coyote on the hill, yip-yowled, just like on the “Easy Rider” soundtrack, as if to say “Yes, I’m exactly what you think I am!” My heart leapt into my throat as I gasped, “That’s the first time I’ve ever heard them in my life! Live long enough, I reckon!” Lily and Jenny managed protective “Woofs!” while Beryl gazed toward the howls, wagging his tail, whining softly. “Old runnin’ buddies ?” I asked him. He looked up at me, our eyes met, knowledge was transferred. “Oh, if you only knew,” he seemed to say.

There’s a passage from Cormac McCarthy’s “All the Pretty Horses” that sums up this whole coyote situation much better than I ever could. John Grady and Rawlins have killed a deer, butchered it, and they’re smoking the meat beside the campfire. In the night, the coyotes woke them, and they lay in the dark and listened to them where they convened over the carcass of the deer, fighting and squalling like cats. I want you to listen to that damned racket, said Rawlins. He got up and got a stick from the fire and shouted at them and threw the stick. They hushed. He mended the fire and turned the meat on the greenwood racks. By the time he was back in his blankets they were at it again. Make no mistake, they’ll always be at it, and, they’re not going away.

I have a new vision of our apocalypse, be it an asteroid strike, nuclear holocaust, or a super flu. Anything else, and all bets are off ! The coyote has so adapted to our ways, our environment, and our pollution, that its’ demise will closely follow our own. Bad as it hates to, it will consume us, then, slink towards its own Eternity.

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Driveby Truckers deliver the soul and then some https://likethedew.com/2011/02/21/driveby-truckers-deliver-the-soul-and-then-some/ https://likethedew.com/2011/02/21/driveby-truckers-deliver-the-soul-and-then-some/#comments Tue, 22 Feb 2011 04:38:49 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=19434 Driveby Truckers have been promising fans a soul record for a couple of years. Why wouldn’t they?

After all, they backed Bettye Lavette on her Grammy-nominated comeback album, “Scene of the Crime,” and Booker T. Jones on his “Potato Hole.”  Bandleader, Patterson Hood’s father, David Hood, is one of the legendary Muscle Shoals session players, the Swampers, having backed Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and Percy Sledge, among many others.  So, it’s more than an obligation, it’s a birthright.

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Driveby Truckers have been promising fans a soul record for a couple of years. Why wouldn’t they?

After all, they backed Bettye Lavette on her Grammy-nominated comeback album, “Scene of the Crime,” and Booker T. Jones on his “Potato Hole.”  Bandleader Patterson Hood’s father, David Hood, is one of the legendary Muscle Shoals session players, the Swampers having backed Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and Percy Sledge, among many others.  So, it’s more than an obligation, it’s a birthright.

On “Go-Go Boots,” their tenth record, they deliver on that promise.  This is most evident on the two Eddie Hinton covers, “Everybody Needs Love” and “Where’s Eddie?” Hood provides vocals on the former and bassist Shonna Tucker on the later. The South in their voices augments the soul, like real butter on a real biscuit, and Jay Gonzales’ Hammond B-3 and Wurlitzer adds the homemade jelly. Guitarist/songwriter Mike Cooley brings the other side of the soul equation, the blue-eyed soul. This is actual country music, the kind Nashville no longer makes.

Cooley has always been master of the cleverly crafted cliché, to wit on the song, “Cartoon Gold “

“I’m not good with numbers, I just count on knowing when I’m high enough / A mule with only two legs counting steps towards dangling carrots don’t add up / I think about you when I can , and even sometimes when I can’t, I do / Once the driver knows you got good sense, he takes away the carrots too.”

The Truckers are equal parts melody and mayhem, but, absent are the barn-burners present on last year’s “The Big To Do.” In their place are quieter songs, no less introspective, nor, devoid of human drama.

For those of us for whom Thanksgiving and Christmas are more a source of stress and tension than the warm fuzzies they‘re supposed to be, the Hood-penned “The Thanksgiving Filter” will ring as true as the current economy is bad. Familiar subjects of murder, madness, and the American Dream gone sour, reappear, as does landscape from earlier records: Rogersville, Alabama from “Southern Rock Opera,” where the protagonist is nabbed with “a half-ounce of weed and a case of Sterling Bigmouth,” and Colbert County from “The Dirty South.” where he wonders if he’ll make the evening news if he’s killed, there.

As Neil Young once said, “I found the middle of the road a boring place to be, so, I headed for the ditch. The people there were more interesting.”

Driveby Truckers study that same roadmap, the destination never certain, but, the trip sure is a hoot.

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