The Poisoned Ink Well

Saturday, January 11, 2003

I had one of those disagreeably, dysfunctional, eccentric southern families. We had Azalea bushes, instead of picket fences, and our grass in typical Louisiana fashion was greener than the grass in most other places. I grew up in one of those homes where they put on a big pot of food in the morning and said to everyone (even salesmen) "Ya'll come on in and get a plate." I think my parents have at different times fed half the city. Even when the constable came out to serve warrants he was offered a plate chicken and rice, or pot roast, or red beans depending on the day of the week. I’ve seen search warrants accompanied by coffee and pie in the sitting room "Let's go eat and have coffee first and then we'll talk about all this, Ya’ll.”

It usually started with one of us peering out the window and an exhaled “Oh fuck!” as we counted the number of police cars or sedans and determined whether it was the local, state, or federal. “Ah One, two, no three cars, and wait here comes some more.” and an “I wonder what he did this time?”

Sometimes we had warning, with him arriving just a moment before, drugged out of his mind, and shouting things like “ I don’t care what they say I didn’t rob the drug store.” or "I didn’t beat that guy up and I have 21 witnesses that will swear it wasn’t me.” and always the “They’ll never take me alive.” and one of us saying “Well if they’re coming, don’t you think that you should leave?” and he usually did.

It was always, "Mom the constable's office is here," or "Mom the city detectives are here," or "Mom this time it's the Secret Service," or "Mom it's the FBI." I'd have to count the number of uniforms or suits and get the right number of coffee cups and then serve them on a big tray in the front room.

The front room, or living room as we called it, with it’s overly ornate gold leaf coffee table, french reproduction sofas, lace curtains, large oil paintings, pottery and sculpture, always seemed to take those fellows by surprise. They clearly were not anticipating a tea service cart with fine bone china and homemade pecan pie when they arrived in their SWAT Team uniforms or black suits and sunglasses with wires protruding from their ears; they always sat a bit uncomfortably looking like errant schoolboys awaiting a scolding from some long forgotten Great Auntie; it was my job to put them at ease and I guess I laughed a bit too much under my head and in my own inner dialogue as I witnessed, yet another visit from another branch of the farce. Perhaps at some point when they left empty handed, one said to the other, “Get that bitch. I don’t care how you do it. Get her” Anyway, that's what was in my imagination as they sped out of our driveway, one by one, on to the country highway.

When I was 16, I abandoned the wild scene of my home life, and took up residence with some friend’s who lived on the Mississippi River in a complex with no elevator, and four flights of steps between me and ‘them’; sleeping head to head and side by side in quilts with pillows all over the floor, no electric, and flower arrangements with some of the finest swamp bud grown in that era, long green stalks of dense pretty cannabis, with wild, wiry, resinated, red hairs that stood out like an aura around the green edges; they went by the gram and we always separated our pounds, according the size of the bud, and placed them strategically in different vases and on constant exhibit, next to the scales, in my own version of my parent’s front room. We would stay up all night smoking and drinking Sunrises while laying on the roof and staring at the gray and blue clouds of Exxon billowing out just across the river; listening to Pink Floyd or the Calliope music from the Delta Queen when morning came. No one came to disturb me or my friends until the manager got wise and showed up with the police and an eviction order.

When my father died I had to leave the state. I was never the one they came to see, but they hated me anyway. So I just packed up and left.

It was early in the morning, around 2am, there was no moon out, the sky was pitch black, I was driving into the middle of a thunderstorm, flashes of lightning, occasionally lit up the countryside, and I could make out the lines of oak tree branches hanging over the narrow highway; I was alone and I couldn’t imagine my life being any different than it was, as my tires splashed across the pavement in north Louisiana, and the rhythmic swish of the windshield wipers, blended in with the steady drops of rain on the hood of my Dodge Charger, and blunted my consciousness; I was going at a steady speed, well above the limit, until I came to a wall of water in the road, out of nowhere, the beam of my headlights ended into a deep gully, the bridge had washed out, and I was the first one to encounter it, I slammed on my breaks, and hit the water, causing me to do a complete donut in the road, leaving a large plume in the wake around me, I stopped for just a second, stunned, I looked around, and as the water began seeping into doors, I floored it, and I barely managed to make it up, the muddy sloping embankment, and back to safety on the other side, my tires squealed, and I sped on, there were no towns to speak of, just boarded up old ma and pa stores, and a few dark farm houses, with shotguns and dogs, and barbed wire cow fields; I finally made it back to another farm road headed north and then I drove even faster to the Arkansas state line.