Chapter Fifteen: Harry, Joe left home to find… ???????????????????????????
stood on the side of the road, thumb out, facing south. He had no idea where he was going, only that his continual quest to find a place to sleep, eat, and then move on would become a never ever ending cycle. One must keep moving and meeting new people—before the old ones figured you out. He knew his father and Uncle Carmine’s death, which had entered and overpowered his mind again once the threat of Gambino retaliation had wavered, would soon fade into the same dull, milky white memory that had originally befell his mind after their “automobile accident”. He was sure they had joined his ancestors among the lost souls which were now suffering a fate of purgatory–which was something he did not assume to dwell on. The best he could do was light candles as soon as he found a Catholic Church with its “lost souls” section–complete with deep red candle holders and fragrant incense. He began thinking of what he would do…
…he’d kneel besides old grandmothers dressed in symbolic black, conducting prayers of forgiveness in tune with their ever present rosaries. Then he’d place his dime, clinging into an elaborate change box, and ring an announcement in Heaven that another prayer had been entered for THEM. He wondered: ‘HOW MANY DIMES WOULD IT TAKE UNTIL THEY WOULD BE ALLOWED TO JOIN hIM IN hEAVEN?’ His reflections only reinforced a fact he knew: Once he ignited his wooden match against the striker, tired, old, wrinkled faces of despair would explode before his eyes– revealing their pain of worry and hope…
Would he be that old and gray before HE heard his prayers!? What if HE didn’t? Who would pray for them when he was gone… …once again, vengence entered his mind: HE WOULD GET EVEN!
It was a thought which brought on a calming effect…
Yes! He would learn how to get even!
Once more, peacefully alone with in his mind, he recalled his last ride: A loud, slow-talking, Southern Trucker who never questioned his motives, just asked if he would assist him in unloading his semi when they arrived at his destination. For this, he gave him his first chew of “Tabaky”, a free ride–with meals–and ten dollars.
FANTASTIC! HECK YEA!
They had stopped for meals and rest at various truck stops along the way; each teeming to overflow with magical people whom roamed the towns, cities, and country-side of this great land. Just sitting in a corner booth, munching down on plates of “home cooked” fare, in the company of gregarious people was invigorating. With mouth full and ears wide open, he listened with fascination as they spun tales and drew him into their web of jest and delightful banter. He could not mask his curiosity and ambitions of visiting the strange, far-away places they spoke of: A city so high the air was hard to breath!—A bridge spanning a wide, deep bay with no supporting columns!—The French Quarter, with buildings Andrew Jackson visited, and night spots where woman danced… naked on a stage! REALLY!? Live alligators!… Grizzly bears!… INDIANS!… WOW! MOVIES COME TO LIFE…
So… there he stood…. lost in day dreams… not thinking about his family, his problems, nor his fate; waiting for the next ride–Where would it take him?
A car stopped and he ran over to it.
“Where are you going? Asked the driver.
“South,” He replied.
“Well I’m going to about Biloxi, Mississippi… Wanna ride?”
He was soon asleep and did not wake up until they had arrived in a town twenty miles north of Biloxi, Mississippi.
The gentleman stopped his car, wished him luck, and after Joe got out, immediately roared off. It was in the middle of the day and he was famished. He checked his resources: he had nine dollars and change–he looked for a place to eat. It was then that he saw the weirdest thing of all his life: a sign on the window of a restaurant announcing “BREAKFAST SERVED ALL DAY – NO COLORED ALLOWED”.
Flabbergasted, he looked at it and tried to figure it out… he couldn’t, so, both curious and hungry, he entered the place, went to the counter, and sat down.
The waitress came over he asked her what the sign meant.
“It means that nigger’s don’ eat heer. We don’t care what them Yankees say!” She just said in a normal, everyday way,
He looked at her and said nothing…
She asked if he was gonna ask questions or eat…
“Eat”, he told her in one word–not wanting to let on he in fact was a Yankee!
She brought a menu over and he thanked her.
It could have been in Greek, for he was lost as soon as he read it.
“Hominy Grits”–Did this mean singing food or what?
“Pigs in a Blanket”–Are they cold?
“Flap Jacks”–He didn’t even want to guess!
“Molasses… Maple syrup “–Ah, this he recognized.
“Sorghum”–What was that?
“Chipped beef and gravy?”
“Sour Dough Biscuits?”
The list went on and he had no idea, so he just pointed to the special: grits, eggs, and sour dough biscuits.
It turned out to be fantastic food — he ate till he thought he was going to bust and the bill was only $1.89!
He got up and went out side to investigate the town: he was lost….
All the roads seemed to end in the very core of the city, which was divided into colors… not of the rainbow…but of people–black and white. Even the drinking fountains in the small park he walked through were labeled black and white.
Lost, he asked a black guy for directions to the road he needed to take to Miami, Florida.
At first the man did not reply, so Joe asked him again… “Hey, man, which way should I go if I wanna go south? What highway?”
Finally, recognizing no enmity in Joe, he meekly began giving him directions.
As he was pointring towards a dusty side road that crossed the one Joe had originally arrived on, a car pulled up and Joe noticed the immediate reaction of the man: he shut up!
“Where are you from?” The driver asked Joe.
“North.” Joe replied and turned to thank the old black fellow…
That’s when the guy told him to get in the car….
The man jumped out of the automobile, face red with indignation, hands trembling, and produced a Sheriff’s badge.
The black guy went into a wailing lamentation, “I’za don’a do nuthin! I’za swear, I’za dona …”
At this point, Joe lit out of there, rounded a corner, and hid in a store; it did not take a genius to realize that what ever this place was named, it was not a place he wanted to remain in, return to, or be in! He managed to find a highway and a trucker whom offered him a ride to Alabama.
Joe arrived in Geneva County, Alabama, late in the afternoon and, after unloading the semi, he received ten dollars and was on his way again….
As Joe walked along a quiet stretch of highway with his thumb out, he came upon the first Christian tent revival off his life: The huge red, white, and blue tent with streamers fluttering in the wind, and crowds of folk arriving in everything from mule and horse drawn, to open car and pick-up, caused Joe to think he had discovered a carnival! After locating a small lake behind the tent, Joe washed up in a hurry and returned to the tent; which by now had overflowed out into the open field! He approached the tent and crowd with caution…
“…AND THE LORD WILL CASTIGATE, HUMILIATE, AND DOWN NEAR FORMILUATE YOUR SOULS INTO THE FIERY PIT OF HELL! SEEK YE HIS BLESSINGS! HEAR YE HIS WORD! EXCEPT YE CHRIST… OR YOU WILL BURN FOR ETERNITY! YES! I HAVE COME; NOT AS A MESSENGER OF DOOM AND GLOOM–BUT AS A MESSENGER OF ETERNAL LIGHT AND LOVE!!!!
“SAY IT REVEREND SAY IT! HALLELUJAH “
“COME TO JESUS AND BE SAVED… OR BE DAMNED INTO THE BOTTOMLESS PIT OF ETERNAL DAMNATION……..”
“AH MEEEN! YES! YES! SAY IT REVEREND!”
“AND I QUOTE, ROMANS 7-16… YOU CAN CHOOSE YOUR OWN MASTER… YOU CAN CHOOSE SIN OR ELSE OBEDIENCE TO THE LORD.. WHOM DO YOU CHOOSE… WHOM DO YOU STAND BY…
“AMEN… OH LORDY! AMEN!”
“THROW AWAY THOSE BOTTLES AND JUGS OF CORN LIQUOR… STOP THAT WICKED FORNIFICATION… TURN OFF THAT SINFUL MUSIC… REPENT! REPENT! REPENT! REPENT I SAY TO YOU..”
“YES SIR… ALL RIGHT!… SAY IT REV.. SAY IT. IN JESUS NAME, SAY IIIIIT!”
BLOOOOOW YOOOOUR TRUUUUUUMPETS AND THE WAAAAAALLS OF JERICO WILL COME TUMBLING DOWN… SIN AND WORRY CAST INTO A HEAP OF WRETCHED RUBBLE… ONLY GLORY AND PEACE LEFT IN IT’S WAKE!!!!”
“AMEN! OH, WHEN DEM SAINTS! OH, WHEN DEM SAINTS, OH, WHEN DEM SAINTS GO MARCHING IN, I WANT TO BE IN THAT…”
Joe had to do a double take… Like Burt Lancaster, stepping down right off that big screen on Steinway’s corner movie house, an Ehlmer Gantry looking fellow, tall, young, with an awesome power of speech, stood upon a stage, draped in sweat and righteousness, delivering a sermon that had folks writhing on the ground!
Joe was amazed to say the least. In his Church, people just did not act this way? In fact, it was sin to even enter another house of worship other than a Catholic Church! He began to wonder if a tent could be construed to be a “house” of worship.Though he new better, his curiosity demanded he determine, if in fact, it was Burt Lancaster whom was delivering the message that had so many “normal” people singing, chanting, and generally going bonkers!
“SONNY, COME RIGHT UP HERE! THAT’S RIGHT! FOLKS, MAKE ROOM FOR THIS CHILD OF GOD TO RECEIVE CHRIST!”
“Was he talking to me?” Joe asked himself as he tried to get close to the stage–his eyes were on him and he was pointing directly at him!
“HELP HIM.. I SAY HELP HIM.. I SAY HELP HIM UUUUP TO THE LOOOORD!”
It seemed as if he had returned to that day four years ago and fainted again, for a multitude of hands and extremities, all mish-mashed into a blur of motion, grabbed ahold of Joe and literally lifted him high above their heads, passing him along the top of the swarming crowd to land at the feet of the politicking preacher whom resembled Burt Lancaster….
“IT IS THE TIME FOR HIS REBIRTH! LET ALL WHOM DESIRE REBIRTH FOLLOW ME TO THE WATERS OF LIFE AND BE WASHED WITH THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT!”
The next thing he knew, the crowd had once again lifted him aloft, and swelled as one out the rear of the tent towards the lake.
“IN THE NAME OF THE…”
Joe never heard another word or sound other than his gulps for air and the bubbles air that rushed out of his mouth as his head, bobbing like an apple in a wash tub, was pushed up and down into the icy cold water of the lake!
What Joe learned on his southern swing, was that the people were friendly once they saw you represented no threat… though getting them to see you weren’t a threat was something else…
He was standing soaking wet with thumb out when the police cruiser stopped and a sheriff stepped out.
“Sonny, wad you doin’ here…in my county? Let’s see some money and ID”
“I have almost ten dollars….but I lost my ID,” he replied hesitantly.
“You sound like your one of them New Yorkers. How come your so darn wet?
“I just came from the revival down the road.. been Baptised! On my way east.”
“Baptized, huh? I bet you went for a swim? No damn dark, oily skinned Yankee’s gonna go to revival! What’s your name?”
“I’m eighteen. My name’s Mike Clark Jr.”
The questions ended:”Git in th’ car–I’m taking ya in, ” he said, while grabbing his arm roughly.
The car stopped in front of a old concrete building with a sign, thick with countless layers of paint, that read: “Geneva County Jail – Home Of Law And Order.”
Sheriff D.T. Williams and his “Jailer Wife” were the actual “law and order”. They ruled the county—along with The Judge. Their answer to the sign out front was: This is our house–use the law–order what you want. The operation was simple. The Sheriff would keep the streets clean by arresting all hitch-hikers under the pretense of “vagrancy”. If you did not have ID and/or cash–if a person had more than ten dollars, they would probably be riding a bus–then the “criminals” would be thrown into a bleak, dark jail, along with an assorted combination of riffraff, drunks, town bums, and an occasional criminal to await trial. Then, The Judge would pass a sentence of 30 to 90 days or pay a hefty fine…which would be split by the trio…and pocketed. Those whom could not afford to pay the fine would spend the next several months working on The Judge’s Farm. All staples served in the jail were supplied by his farm and the county and state money allocated for each prisoner’s sustenance was pocketed by the trio.
The interrogation began: “Who are ya?—How old are ya?—Why’d ya run away?— Where ya from? ….Ya need a hair cut–we’re gonna cut it!”
After all the experiences he had been through, Joe informed the duo they were in for a fight if they touched his head—then he shut his mouth. The result was a six week stay in the “ALABAMA CROSS BAR HILTON”—and no hair cut!
Joe was placed in a cell with several local individuals; including an old man who made periodic visits for town drunkenness, two deserters from the Navy, and some guy whom committed an offense against The Judge himself…
Joe settled down to his situation and viewed his surroundings. The cells were painted black and were covered in filth. The beds, black painted steel bunks sprouting from the walls, contained filthy mattresses and a single stained and grime covered blanket. After only one day he caught a case of the crabs, chiggers, and bed bugs! It was hilarious–though he did not think so at the time–he went to sleep and the next thing he knew he’s itching like a hound dog with fleas.
Well, the “good ole navy boys” had the answer, “Take some of this kerosene and paint remover mix and pour it on your entire body… An don’t forget the genitals!”
…On the top bunk–naked from the waist down….jumping and hollering—like a banshee: “Holy catfish! IT BURNS!!”
Half-naked, red and swollen, he jumped on that “good ole boy” and tried to beat him senseless!
Not only were his genitals red, swollen and sore–so was his pride. The Sheriff brought some ointment, had the cells cleaned and disinfected, then re-evaluated his thoughts of him:
“Keep an eye on ‘im,” he stated to the trustee. “Don’t put ‘im on work detail.”
The trustees and he got along fine — but it was a very ingenious idea that won him acclaim as….”The Moonshiner!”
Time Joe spent in the libraries reading books combined with another tradition handed down through the ages from father to son…the art of wine-making. This gave him an idea…..
Father had brewed home-made wine, Great Grandfather had brewed home-made wine…..and Joe was going to brew home-made wine — in a jail — using raisins, yeast and glass milk bottles!
There they were…. all five of them…. drunk… laughing… making money selling their home-made Raisin Jack to other inmates; the sheriff walking through the cell block complaining of the odor of sour fruit permeating the air: “Trustee”, he hollered each time. “git these cells cleaned out! It stinks in here!”
Well… in the trustee’s last thorough determination to obey the Sheriff–combined with Joe’s natural ability to convince folks to do things they never even contemplated–along with the help of “Raisin Jack”, he not only cleaned out the cells…. he cleaned out the Sheriff’s car…. wallet… and several southern desperados!
The bells rang, the doors clanged….and the Sheriff complained. It seemed the trustee, with only two more months to serve, helped the most wanted criminal in Geneva County, Alabama, to escape! This desperado, this outlaw of “The Bama’s”, was wanted for the most heinous crime to be committed in the history of law and order: dognapping! He was accused of hijacking The Judge’s hound dogs and selling them to a black family across the state line.
His name was Joss Webb. He and Joe got along great… Joe listened to his stories and he his. He had been sentenced to three years in “The Big House”. It seems he had the longest criminal record in the county. His father was killed in World War Two and he grew up in an orphanage. He was abused. Alone. His criminal record full of petty crimes which were magnified by his ineptness–and the fact there was very little true crime in this “well maintained community”. Joe hung with him for three weeks and hatched the plan to free him.
Joe was already close to the trustee, had him convinced that his family was powerful, with “mob” connections. He informed him he would not tell the authorities who he was because his family’s name would be published. If he could help Joss, he would guarantee him a spot in their “Family!”….. Well, believe it or not, he did!
On the night the escape took place, the Sheriff was asleep and the trustee–being the true “jailer” –opened the cells and drove Joss to the state line; where the trusty immediately turned himself in using a far-fetched story about being over-powered and forced to assist in the escape. Only his knowledge of the trio’s operation enabled him to escape prosecution, and Joe, he also escaped…
D.T. found out about the plan…the planners… and the “Moonshiner”.
“What ‘re we gonna do with ya?” D.T. asked of him in all seriousness. “Why don’ ya tell me who ya ‘re….and I’ll jest send ya home!”
“Well, if I do that…you’ll be in a terrible situation: I am a juvenile… and you have held me illegally,” he informed him… then shut up.
The look on his face was the most revealing Joe had yet seen! This man really began to think. He proceeded to inform DT his operation was also illegal, and that the FBI would be highly interested. His conversation with Joss had produced the desired results: the Sheriff frowned, shrugged his shoulders, and sent him back to his cell. Three days later he was informed he would be leaving in two weeks; the county would pay his bus fare to wherever he wanted to go!
Back in his cell, though he partied with his cell-mates, he dreaded the thought of being alone again….
On a bright, cheerful, late summers day, keys clanged and doors flew open–he was free. D.T. agreed to give him a lift to the highway, along with one hundred dollars. He had a blast and received a paycheck! He bet that he was the first to do so–and sure the last! D.T. would never again “arrest” another out-of-state juvenile!