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Clean Living: The DuckBox Virtual Tour Part II

February 8, 2007

TROUBLE slept in cursive words. I held the torn sliver of yellow paper in one trembling hand, reading again a name vaguely familiar, a phone number with a Pine Woods prefix, and instructions for the purchase of a hundred-dollar washer and dryer set.

washer1.jpg

I’ve lived most of my life in the pine woods, and if I’ve learned anything it’s this: It’s a desperate man who will offer you his washer and dryer for a hundred bucks.

He could be a meth addict.

Or a recently-divorced, middle aged man who has given up on clean clothes forever.

********************

I met a man like this recently at the Piggly Wiggly in Rabbit Hill. He wandered the aisles (both of them) like some kind of mad prophet, ZZ-top beard and hair so long and tangled it had long ago formed dread locks of its own accord. A walking, smelly, Cautionary Tale. He stopped me in the Smoked Meats section, jabbing at my chest with the corner of a saltine cracker box.

“This is all I’ve eaten for six years and three months,” he stammered. “Saltine Crackers and Vienna Sausage.”

(Which, if you’ve never pulled an ice-cold Pepsi from the same cooler in which you’re keeping the fish you just caught, you might not be aware is pronounced “Vie-ee-na.”)

“I hope you’re going with the low sodium,” I said. “Men on that diet have been known to spontaneously combust when exposed to open air.”

“Would that God would bless me with fire!” he lamented. “She left me for the Game Warden who arrested us for spotlighting deer. He took my hunting license, my rifle, and three hundred dollars in court costs and fines. She took my heart.”

“Game Wardens are known for their cunning and cruelty,” I sympathised. “Some say their hearts are three sizes too small.”

“I have no reason to keep living,” he said. “I’m going to put back these crackers.”

“Let’s keep it positive here,” I told him. “Mix it up a little bit. Try some of those sardines. Spring for the Ritz crackers. Grab yourself a hunk of hoop cheese.”

“Hoop cheese,” he contemplated. “I had forgotten about hoop cheese.”

“Hoop cheese is good,” I said. “Ergo, life is good.”

“I used to be very good at chess,” he said, smiling. “Very good.”
“You should gamble,” I told him. “Now get out of here. Take a bath. Get a haircut. Wash your clothes.”

“I sold my washer and dryer six years ago,” he said. “For a hundred bucks.”

********************

You see what I’m talking about. My worst fears were confirmed when I dialed his number.

“I thought you were coming last week,” he said.

“Running low of pseudophedrine?” I asked.

“Excuse me?”

“I’m coming Saturday. Where do you live?”

“You know where Old Cabbage Road is?”

“Of course,” I said, my heart plunging into my gut. Old Cabbage Road. My ancestral home. A lawless, bloody neighborhood. Think Missouri river country, 1866. Jesse James and Bloody Bill Anderson. Pinkerton agents and bushwhackers. “You know where the old Boss Duck place is?”

“I know it,” he said, his voice suddenly hard.

“Which direction would I go from there?”

“Depends which direction you’re coming from,” he answered.

“Indeed,” I said.

“I live in a trailer with a building out back,” he continued. “I’m usually in the building.”

“Is that where you keep the Vienna Sausages?”

“Say again?”

“Never mind,” I said. “I’ll find you. See you Saturday.”

****************

I would need backup. My next call was to the Growler, who, due to his own backwoods upbringing, understood the situation immediately.

“You go out there alone,” the Growler said, “that man will tie you to the back of his truck and drag you through the woods.”

“A Pine Woods Sleigh Ride,” I agreed. “I don’t want to have that happen again.”

“I’ll bring the twelve gage,” the growler said. “Should I bring Kerosene? You think we’ll need to smoke the bastard out?”

“No, Growler,” I said. “Bring the shotgun, but I go in alone. These are my people, after all. You hold your fire unless there’s trouble.”

“Oh,” the Growler answered. “There will be trouble.”

******************

Trouble indeed. We found the brick house and the man’s trailer easy enough. Navigating the driveway was another issue. The whole estate was a swampy, rutted mess; The Growler slung his pickup off the hard top road and into the extended mud puddle at fifty miles per hour, holding his shotgun out of the driver’s side window as we careened sideways toward the rotting tarpaper structure between the trailer and the swamp, coming to a stop inches from a man in camoflague overalls and a blaze orange cap, holding a thirty-thirty rifle.

“What’s in season?” I asked him, leaning out of the window.

“Foreigners,” he said. “Godless Heathens. Seventh Day Adventists. You any of that?”

“Church on Saturday?” I said, spitting at the ground for effect. “That ain’t the way God intended it to be.”

I thought we were making progess, but just then a woman stuck her head out of the trailer’s back door.

“Lord, Harold, those boys almost run over the septic tank coming in here!”

The man’s eyes narrowed. “Is that how you treat a stranger?” he said. “Come in here and run over his septic tank?”

Behind me I heard the Growler cock the hammer on his shotgun. We’d both had relatives shot over septic tank disputes, and we both knew the stakes had just been raised.

“Hold on,” he said. “Are you a Liberal or a Conservative?”

“I’m just a man who needs to do laundry,” I answered.

“Well then get your washer and dryer,” he said. “And mosey on out of here before there’s trouble.”

“No shooting?” the Growler asked, disappointed.

“No shooting,” I said, keeping my eyes on the crazed fundamentalist with the hunting rifle while I stuck five twenty dollar bills through the window. “Just a simple business transaction. nobody gets hurt.”

Five minutes later we were tearing back through the gray muck of the front yard, washer and dryer secured in the bed of the Growler’s truck. I held the wheel as the growler Extended his torso out the drivers side window, shooting into the air and screaming “Full Cargo! Full Cargo!” The man’s wife, in a fit of rage, chased us all the way to the paved highway, waving a gallon can of Kerosene and a lit torch.

Beware of people who bury their septic tanks in the front yard. They will burn you out if you turn your back.

And thanks, Growler, for the backup.

–duck

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3 comments

  1. That was funny! It’s sad that I can relate to most of what you wrote. Like, “Lord, Harold, those boys almost run over the septic tank coming in here!”…Wow, I got chill bumps when I read that line. That’s a pretty serious offense. If I have my history right (and I think I do) it was a septic tank dispute that led to the Capulet and Montague family feud. You were right to bring a gun. I enjoyed that one.


  2. I too dabbled in the business of second-hand laundry machines (per the suggestion of brother Duck). I recall that my washing machine went on strike and left me to use public washing machines—no telling what kind of diseases I contracted in those places. I took it back to the “backwoods dealer” to be repaired (probably the same guy) and never saw the thing again! Must have mistaken me for a Liberal.


  3. I only ran over the septic tank to throw them off their guard. It’s like that Faulkner story where the tenant tracks horse pucky on the arabian rug.

    There are all sorts of unspoken rules in the backcountry. You bring a man a gift he that he can’t match in return, you’re liable to get yourself gutted.

    Running over a man’s trailer-house septic tank is like lifting your leg and spraying a fence-post–it commands respect.

    Any time, old boy.



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