Dad and I are shooting brown rats at the Putnam County Dump. I’ve got me a .22 Long Rifle while Dad has a Winchester 70 with a scope. We keep a tally of the rats we shoot ’cause that makes it a bonding experience. So far, I’ve plastered six of them while Dad’s shot seventeen. We’re shooting good ’cause there’s a harvest moon out and we can see them like it was daylight. And Dad’s been swigging Johnny Walker to keep his hands from shaking. A couple belts of Johnny Walker turns Dad into Daniel Boone.
Well, Dad, he sets his rifle down and folds his pudgy arms. ’Cause Dad, he don’t like showing me up—that’s just the way he is. He’s a gentleman, my father.
“Tommy,” says Dad—he still calls me Tommy even though I just turned sixteen. “Tommy,” he says. “I ever told you about the time I chewed out a cop?”
I slip a fresh clip into my .22 and keep on spotting rats. “Tell me about it, Pa,” I say. I’ve heard the story a coupla dozen times, but I want to hear it again. You can’t tell a good story too often is how I look at it.
Dad guides the bottle to his lips and takes a real long pull. His Adam’s apple bobs like a float on a fishing line. Then he belches louder ’an a bazooka and starts telling me the story.
“Happened a coupla years ago out on Route 36. It was ten o’clock on a Saturday night—drunk drivers were everywhere. And your ma and I was driving home from Big Jeb Bowen’s wedding. Big Jeb had him a pitch-in wedding where all the guests hadda bring a dish. And Ma, she brought some Swedish meatballs that nobody wanted to eat.
“Well, Ma said the SPCA oughta investigate Big Jeb. She said, ‘That man pinches nickels so hard he makes the buffalos squeal.’ I said to Ma, ‘Ya can’t fault a man for knowing the value of a dollar.’ Ma said, ‘You can when his bride is barefoot and don’t have no wedding dress.’ I said, ‘Woman, that proves my point. Why spend a hundred dollars on a dress that’s only gonna be worn once?’ Ma said, ‘Once is too many times if it’s Big Jeb Bowen you’re marrying.’ I said, ‘Woman, shut your mouth—you got no call to complain. You put way too much pepper in those goddamn Swedish meatballs.’
“Well, Ma said Big Jeb Bowen is the one who oughta be ashamed. ‘Didja see what he put on the dining room table?’ she said in a voice dry as lint. ‘Half of a watermelon, and he called it a salad bar.’ By now the pickup was starting to stray like a slut on roller skates. And Ma said, ‘Pa, watch your driving.’ And I said to her, ‘Watch your mouth.’ But before I could straighten out the truck, I heard the chirp of a siren. And lights started flashing blue and red just like on the Fourth of July.
“’Now what?’ I said as I eased the pickup onto the shoulder of the road. ‘You tripped on your pecker is what,’ said Ma. She likes to use that expression a lot, but it don’t insult me none. When you got a beauty the size of your Pa’s, you can’t help but step on it.
“Soon, this cop the size of a hippo waddled up to the side of the truck. He had eyes as mean as a fighting cock and jowls like a stud hog. He said, ‘Lemme see your license and registration, bub.’ I said, ‘Is somethin’ wrong, officer?’ He said, ‘You crossed the dividing line, pardner.’ ‘That ain’t all he done,’ shouted Ma ’cause she can’t keep her piehole shut. ‘He said I gotta wear my wedding dress ’til it’s nothing but a rag.’
“The cop, he stuck his chest out and said, ‘Is that how you treat your wife?’ ‘It’s a hundred dollar dress,’ I told him, an’ the woman only wore it once.’ ‘You penny-pinching sonuvabitch.,’ said the cop. ‘You oughta be ashamed.’ I said, ‘Why don’t you make a big deal out of it and put my butt in jail?’
“‘Maybe I will put you in jail,’ said the cop ‘I still got my quota to fill.’ And he slipped the handcuffs offa his belt and clicked the strands into place.
“Ma, she just kept talking ’cause the woman can’t plug her yap. ‘He insulted my Swedish meatballs,’ she said. ‘He told me I used too much pepper.’ The cop said, ‘Meatballs ain’t tasty unless they got pepper in ’em.’
“I said to the cop, ‘Get outta my face. I ain’t eating no meatballs with pepper.’ And the cop said, ‘Pardner, get outta the truck and put your hands on the hood.’
“Well, I farted loud as thunder before getting outta the truck. I said to the cop, ‘That’s what happens when you’re eating meatballs with pepper in ’em.’ As the cop put the bracelets on me, he said, ‘Don’t you worry none about that. You’re gonna eat nothing but chitlins when you’re booked in the greybar hotel.’
“The cop drove me to the county lockup, which is on Griffin Boulevard. And before I knew it, I was sitting in a cell surrounded by rapists and robbers. Big hairy men with tattoos on their arms and names like Bubba and Spike. They all had dongs like horses, and they hung ’em in my face.
“‘You don’t look like no jailbird,’ said one, the biggest of them all.
“‘I ain’t,’ I said. ‘Unless it’s a crime not to buy your wife a dress shop.’
“The dude, he got all thoughtful and started scratching his head. He said, ‘A woman don’t need more ’an two or three dresses. She can only wear one at a time.’
“‘This cop told me different,’ I said. ‘He told me to buy her a dress. And that’s when I tore him an asshole the size of a Thunderbird.’
“The thugs, they got all respectful and nodded like bobbleheads. And they stuffed their dongs back into their pants like they were hogging buffalo catfish. All of ’em agreed that ya can’t fault a man for tearing a cop a new asshole. Not when the cop tried to force him to buy his wife a dress.
“The thugs decided I was a hero and they took up a collection for me. They said I deserved the best damn lawyer that eighty-five cents could buy. And they served up this wine made from raisins and we all got louder ’an sailors on shore leave. And when the jailer told us to shut our mouths, I told him to jack me off. Hell, I ain’t gonna obey no pissant jailer after chewing out a cop.”
By now, I’ve shot me eleven more rats and Dad and I are tied. But Dad don’t pick up his rifle ’cause the story is only half told. “Tell me what happened next,” I say ’cause I ain’t heard the good part yet. Dad takes a long swig of whiskey to loosen up his throat then he belches like a blasting cap, which scares off all the rats.
“Monday morning,” he says, “the cop drove me to the Putnam County Courthouse. And he told me he ate all them leftover meatballs ’cause Ma didn’t want ’em no more. He said he ate ’em with Ketchup and a pint of Boston beans. I said, ‘Don’t be lighting no cigarettes ’til you’ve had yourself a shit.’
“The cop frog-marched me into the courtroom and sat me in the jury box. The place was so damn crowded there weren’t no room left in the pews. That’s ’cause the courtroom was fulla drunks that got busted over the weekend.
“I spotted Ma in the gallery; she was wearing her wedding dress. The dress was fulla moth holes and was yellower ’an a corpse. It looked like she had slept in it then dragged it through a barn.
“When the court reporter took her seat, I stopped looking at Ma. That reporter had tits like a dairy heifer and legs that could strangle a mule. Hell, I already had a hard-on when the bailiff shouted, ‘All rise!’
“This cross-eyed judge with a face like a bullfrog took his seat on the bench. And I sat there for three damn hours while the bailiff kept calling cases. And this public defender came up to me and said she could cut me a deal. She said if I entered a guilty plea, she could get me off with probation. Well, I told her she’d have to do better ’an that if she wanted to get me off. I told her I wasn’t taking no deal—not if it meant that I hadda eat meatballs that even Big Jeb won’t touch. And not if it meant I’d end up in the poorhouse to keep your ma in dresses.
“After three hours, the bailiff called my name, and I stood in front of the judge. ‘Mr. Dawes,’ the judge boomed, as he held up some papers. ‘I’ve got an arrest report on ya and a statement from your wife. You’ve been charged with drunk driving, farting too loud, and neglecting a mighty fine woman. How do you plead to them charges?’ Well, I wanted a swig of whiskey after spending the weekend in jail. So I said to him, ‘Yer honah, I wanna take the fifth.’
“The judge said, ‘That’s not funny, Mr. Dawes. How you wanna plead to them charges?’
“I looked around the court and cleared my throat and puffed myself up like a toadfish. And I gave a speech so bitchin’ the whole damn building shook.
“I said, ‘Yer honah, what are things coming to when a man’s gotta eat foreign meatballs? Next thing you know, he’s gonna be drowndin’ in bird’s nest soup and borsht. And how’s he gonna keep a woman in dresses when she only wears ’em once? He’ll have to move to China so he can buy ’em on the cheap.’
“The judge, he put down his gavel ’cause he knew I had a point. He said, ‘I don’t like dresses from China and I don’t like beets in my soup.’ He looked at the cop all suspicious-like and the cop started pissing his pants. The judge asked, ‘You been selling us out to the Chinks and fucking Mr. Dawes wife?’
“The cop couldn’t do nothing but stutter so I kept on addressin’ the court. ‘Where’s it gonna end, yer honah?’ I said. ‘Where is it gonna end? When we’re riding around in rickshaws and calling each other comrade?’
“I heard someone shout, ‘Here, here!’ And someone else yelled, ‘USA!’ And everyone started cheerin’ like I’d just been elected pope.
“The judge thought for a moment then said to the cop, ‘I’m tossing out this case. And I’m tossing you into the slammer for endangering public safety. Don’t you know riding in rickshaws puts splinters in your ass?’ The bailiff double-cuffed the cop and walked him to the holding tank. The cop screamed, ‘I only fucked her once’ but judge just said, ‘Next case.’
“Before I knowed it, the crowd hoisted me up and carried me outta the courtroom. And Ma hurried along behind us ’cause my speech had her hot for my pecker. And people pounded my shoulders and said I should run for Congress. But I told ’em I’d rather go fishing and catch me some largemouth bass.”
A month later, Dad and I are sitting out on our back porch. That was after Ma poured his booze into the sink then threw him outta the house. Dad kept shoutin’ that whiskey don’t spoil, but Ma wasn’t havin’ none of that.
Dad sits there, sipping a fifth of scotch that Ma ain’t discovered yet: a bottle he hid in the woodpile where Ma wasn’t likely to look. And I sit there munching water melon and spitting out the seeds. I can’t spit ’em very far, which is kinda disappointing. I’ll bet if Dad gave me a Heimlich pop, I could spit ’em twenty feet.
Dad says to me, “Tommy, I ever told you about the time I chewed out a cop?”
I’ve heard the story about two dozen times, but I said, “Tell me about it, Dad.” You can’t tell a good story too often, and that’s just how it is.
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