A collection of amusing and interesting stories. Enjoy!
I played football in high school. It was a very small school, maybe forty in my graduating class, so they needed every able body who managed to will themselves through brutal two-a-days in August in South Carolina. I was a lousy player, but Coach Biggerstaff liked to give seniors a chance to earn their letter. So he placed me at middle guard on defense, right between the two best players on our team, both linebackers on defense. Donald was the Charleston County Back of The Year and Alton was the Charleston County Lineman of The Year. Both went on to play college ball, Donald started at South Carolina, quite an accomplishment for such a small school. As a result the St. Johns Islanders were a very good team. We were undefeated at the time of our homecoming game against Moultrie, a much larger school. We were favored nonetheless.
It was third and long for Moultrie. Their QB dropped back to pass. For some reason nobody blocked me. I wandered into the Moultrie backfield and flushed the QB. He headed around left end, saw Donald waiting and reversed field. I lunged and missed the tackle as he headed around right end. Alton waited there, so he reversed field again and ran right into my arms for a fifteen yard loss. With fourth down I trotted off the field to the bench. The sizable crowd gave me a standing ovation. The cheerleaders twirled and chanted, “George, George, he’s our man!” The guys on the bench jumped up cheering. That was uncharted territory for me. Coach Bigerstaff looked at the crowd, then the cheerleaders, then my shouting teammates, then out at me trotting in. Then he looked back at the team, and in a slow southern drawl said, “Well boys, it’s like I always said. You give a monkey a typewriter, and sooner or later he’s gonna spell a word.”
For three years during the summer while I was in college I worked for The Post Office. It was one of the few summer jobs in the Charleston area that paid anything. My first year I had to compete with thousands to get the job, after that it was automatic. I would replace regulars while they were on vacation. Usually I would spend a couple days riding with the regular guy, then take over the following week. Sometimes if somebody was sick, I’d do the route cold. Those were long days. The more familiar the route, the faster you could do it. Raised on Johns Island, I only knew the main streets in North Charleston. So when I took over a drop box route in a residential area up there, I just memorized the maze like route. Drop boxes are those big stand alone boxes that you find on corners and in front of malls and such. There was one box that usually had a lot of mail in it, and I would bend down and stick my head in the box to make sure no mail was stuck in the chute. A terrier would sneak up behind me and yap loudly just at the right moment, causing me to jump and bump my head. I swear that dog laughed at me. He got me three times over two weeks.
One day they assigned me cold to a residential route in the St. Andrews area. I came to a house with a mailbox on the porch, 112 something or other. I had mail for 112½ also. There was a trailer in the back, so I headed back there. I heard one “wolf” and saw a bloodhound heading straight for me. That dog meant business, no foreplay. At five feet he leapt for my throat. I dodged to the side and he hit my shoulder knocking us both to the ground. Bloodhounds are big dogs. He rolled a couple times, then headed out in the backyard, made a U-turn, and came back full speed before I could get up. Just then the owner came out and called him off. That was terrifying. Badly shaken I continued the route. Not long after I came upon another house with the mailbox on the porch. This one was fenced in and had a Beware of Dog sign on the gate. I would have skipped it, except I had a certified package that needed a signature. I looked around the vehicle and found a billy club and some pepper spray. So I went to the front door well armed with the package tucked under my arm, one hand holding the club and the other the spray. When I rang the bell, a little white-haired old lady opened the door and her chihuahua came running out. The old woman took one look at me and started shouting, “Don’t hurt Mitsy! Don’t hurt Mitsy!”
I became friends with Dennis near the end of my college years. This is a story he told. He graduated from high school in Charleston in 1965 give or take. He and some classmates rented a house on Sullivan’s Island for an after graduation party. As customary in the low country in those days, they had several bowls of PJ (Purple Jesus), a punch made chiefly with grape juice and grain alcohol, but sometimes with rum, vodka, and fruit slices thrown in. In addition they had one bowl that was laced with LSD. It was still very early days for drugs in the deep south, and Dennis didn’t even know exactly what LSD was, nevertheless he knew he was drinking from the special bowl.
At some point he wandered down to the beach. It was a calm night and the mosquitoes were out in force. To get away from them, he decided to take off his clothes and get into the water. It was pleasant out there. As everybody who has been there knows, if you don’t fight it the current will take you down the beach. When he exited the ocean, his clothes were nowhere in sight. He started walking down the beach. In his fuddled mind about the only thing he was certain of was that he was very hungry. He had an epiphany. Houses have food in them. So he climbed the steps of the nearest beach house, jiggled the handle to the screen door, and walked right in. When he opened the frig, he found treasure — a platter of fried chicken. Now Dennis is about six three. The dentist and his wife who lived there heard noise and found Dennis in all his glory illuminated by the frig light. They yelled something. Dennis took the drumstick out of his mouth and said, “Sometimes life is like that.” Soon he realized he wasn’t welcome and left.
There followed several hours of phone calls to the police reporting “a naked stranger” wandering the streets of Sullivan’s Island. They finally cornered him, handcuffed him behind his back, and put him in the back seat of a patrol car. Dennis is double-jointed or whatever they call it and has really long arms. He had a trick he could do. When a cop looked back, Dennis had his hands in front of him and a smile on his face. They stopped and repeated the procedure, this time telling Dennis not to do that again. They threw him in the drunk tank. Dennis said that when he awoke the next morning still naked, the other guys in the communal cell had been betting on his story, most favoring the unexpected return of a boyfriend or husband. The police out there were used to drunk students, but they didn’t know much about drugs yet. Also things were looser in those days. So when the dentist didn’t press charges, they let him go. It didn’t hurt that his father was well respected.
Another friend of mine, Stanley, ran a delivery service for a while. A bunch of us used to meet at Kitty’s Fine Foods for breakfast. The best breakfast in Charleston. Miss Kitty was a plump matronly woman. Her menus had cat pictures and cats wandered around the tables from time to time. The front of Kitty’s was all plate glass. Apparently Stanley had had a rough previous night. He missed the brake on his van and it made contact with Kitty’s window, not hard contact, but enough. The window shattered spraying half her place with glass. Fortunately no one was hurt. Stanly calmly walked in, looked around, sat at a table, raked the glass off with his elbow, and said, “Could I have a cup of coffee please?”
After college for a time I shared a house with Dennis and some other Charleston buddies. It was just across the street from Johnson-Hagood Stadium, the Citadel stadium, a nice old house that had seen better days. As one would expect in a bachelor house, our furniture was improvised. Dennis had “found” some old railroad ties and fashioned a long rough coffee table, kind of neat really if you didn’t mind a whiff of creosote. Dennis had a German shepard named Bigfoot, a very smart dog. When Bigfoot did something wrong like winkle the butter wrapper out of the garbage, I would scold him and tell him to go stand in the corner and put his nose on the floor. He would do it, and then look up from time to time with remorseful eyes to see when his punishment was up. For a time we were acquainted with a Russian defector named Oleg or Oleck (I think), a sailor who had jumped overboard in Charleston harbor. At least that’s what he claimed. We never really trusted the guy. Bigfoot hated him, some deep-seated racial animosity at play no doubt. Bigfoot would spend hours slowly working his way closer and closer to Oleg, a stretch here a roll over there. Finally when he was within range Bigfoot would leap at him. It was amusing to watch, maybe not for Oleg.
In those days our favorite bar was The Three Nags, close to and later claimed by the College of Charleston. It was one of the great college bars of bygone days, ranking with The Opus at the University of SC and Chukkers in Tuscaloosa. Now we liked to throw the occasional party. We knew a guy who spent his spare time in the summer seining for little creek shrimp. They were delicious but there wasn’t much of a market for them. If you were into pre-shelling and deveining, they were a lot of work. We didn’t bother with those niceties. So we made an arrangement for him to catch and freeze shrimp all summer long. Then we’d buy the lot and throw a party. I don’t remember the exact price, but it was well under a dollar a pound for two to three hundred pounds of shrimp. We would invite friends, and also drop by The Three Nags and tell everybody to come by. The party amounted to boiled shrimp and beer and dancing to Martha And The Vandellas. By the end of the night there would be shrimp shells piled everywhere.
At one point when I was Heat Waved out, I was chatting with Nancy Barnwell, with whom I had been dancing, kudos to her bravery. She related the following story. Recently she had been jogging down Folly Beach where she and her husband had a house. She wasn’t really thinking, just sort of registering things as she passed — crab, dog, waves, gulls, peanut butter foam. Suddenly for the first time in her life, she realized that the light brown foam on the beach couldn’t possibly be peanut butter foam. Turns out as a little girl she had asked her grandmother about it. No doubt with a smile, her grandmother had explained that it came from ships at sea washing out their peanut butter jars. She had never questioned it.
Ben and I became friends at the tail end of college and beyond, since we were both from Charleston. One day he asked me if I would hitchhike with him up to Lake George, New York for the Fourth. He said we could stay with his friends there and in New York City, so off we went. The trip was pretty much a bust. His friends were not all that delighted to put us up, especially the new boyfriend of Ben’s former girlfriend. Also I think we were coming to the end of the yeah sure crash on the floor era, perhaps more so in high traffic places like NYC. One modest highlight of the trip was being picked up by two mafia guys in a Lincoln Continental. They were going to Saratoga for the races and spoke pretty freely around us, nothing incriminating of course, but a lot of “family” politics. The most interesting event happened on the way back to Charleston. We were dumped in Columbia at the USC campus just a little before midnight. That being our old stomping grounds, we both had nearby places we could crash, and we split up.
Extremely tired, I walked down Green St. past fraternity row to John Arthur’s house, another Charleston friend. It was exam time for summer classes, and he was conked out in a chair. Cat Stevens’ Tea For The Tillerman album was playing over and over with the arm up. The main door was open, but the screen door was latched. I pounded on the door and yelled, but he was out for the count. I decided to walk back through campus to the Opus Bar, my favorite watering hole. So at two in the morning, now exhausted and drunk, I decided to give it another try. At one point I passed a lone coed going the other way, then two males a hair young for college students going the same direction. I took note of the situation. Almost home I heard the faint patter of running feet and a muffled yelp. Damn. I wasn’t up for this. I turned and ran back. I got there as they were dragging her into the bushes about thirty yards from the road where I stood. She appeared to be limp, probably unconscious. I started yelling for help. They turned to face me. One guy actually smiled and pulled a knife. I had a feeling this wasn’t going to end well. Finally lights started coming on and people exited the houses. The two assailants disappeared down the hill. I went to the coed. She was semi-conscious, incoherent, her glasses broken, and her face bloody, but she still had clothes on. When the first fraternity looking guy reached me, I passed her off and got out of there. I admit one part of me was a little angry that she put herself and me at risk like that. Another part of me said maybe she had a good reason. I never found out. The second time I managed to get John Arthur’s attention.
A year or two later, Ben was working in Key West as an educational counselor on a military base. A nice gig. His father had connections. Dennis and I and my brother Charlie decided to drive down to visit him. During the last leg we picked up an attractive young lady hitchhiking to Key West. We were average decent looking guys, and we behaved like perfect gentlemen. In fact Dennis was tall, dark, reasonably handsome, and a bit of a chick magnet. So you would think she would be at least distantly pleasant. She spent the whole two hours subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, insulting us in one form or another. She wasn’t a native Conch, having lived there a couple of years, but you would have thought she went back three generations. With all the zeal of the newly converted, she made it plain that tourists like us were the lowest form of creation. I think she was terrified that we might run into her and presume friendship. It got so bad that Dennis and I were making eye contact and chuckling. When we dropped her off, I told Dennis that if we ran into her hopefully with her friends, we had to run up and give her big hugs. Unfortunately the opportunity never presented itself.
We couldn’t have picked a worse week weather-wise. A stalled tropical depression took up residence. It would wobble away and then wobble back. The locals began to call it a neutercaine. In addition to near constant rain, the storm spun out mini-tornadoes from time to time. No snorkeling, sailing or fishing for us. Mostly we hung out in bars and ate good seafood. We spent many hours listening to the not yet famous Jimmy Buffet, an acquaintance of Ben’s. He seemed like a nice guy. Ben had rented an old weathered house with plenty of character. I loved the huge arched double doors that separated the upstairs master bedroom from the living room. Space wasn’t a problem, but lack of furniture was, namely guest beds. Ben had his bedroom, and we made do with the couch, chairs and the rug in the living room.
I’ve never been fond of airport bars, but that is where we would close out every night. Ben was hitting on the lady bartender. Now to be fair this wasn’t a modern sterile chrome and glass airport bar, and security guys didn’t have to examine our tonsils before we were allowed in. In fact I don’t remember any security at all. It looked like it was in an old wooden hangar or maybe a warehouse. It had a high ceiling with fans, wooden tables and a neat long curved bar. That said, transients spoiled the ambiance. Airport bars are airport bars. Ben was a likable fellow, decent looking, good sense of humor, nice job, nice house, a pretty little sports car (unfortunately one of those British ones that were always breaking down), and most importantly for the women of Key West he lived there. The lady in question seemed friendly enough, but then lady bartenders are paid to be friendly. I had to admire Ben’s persistence. Night after night he would dance his little dance and go home with just us guys.
Then on our last night in Key West, the lady relented. Good for Ben. While the two of them disappeared into Ben’s bedroom, the rest of us tried to get some sleep there in the adjacent living room. It wasn’t easy. They were pretty noisy. I was just about to sleep when she yelled, “Careful Ben you’ll break your neck!” At that I gave up the ghost and turned on the TV. The late night movie was that Errol Flynn movie, The Charge of The Light Brigade. It was reaching its climax, with the star rising in his stirrups to shout “Charge!”, when a mini-tornado hit the house next to us, Ben’s side of the house, and completely took it off of its foundation. Transformers exploded with sparks like Roman candles as the electricity went off in a flash. The tornado shattered Ben’s window and sent his bed crashing through the double doors into the living room, with Ben and his lady sitting up naked as if they were riding a magic carpet. Quite a show.