Chapter Four: Down South

It’s a trip, some of the things I remember. While I don’t claim to have an eidetic memory, I can recall odd dates, every institutional number ever assigned to me, chronologically order every cell I’ve ever lived in (close to one-hundred in sixteen years) and sometimes describe in great detail certain seemingly trivial events from the past. Like the move in south Texas in November of 1987. We loaded up our truck with our belongings. My dad drove, my mother rode shotgun and my brother and I were in the club cab with my dog Bud. It was dusk as the lights of Houston faded to rustic countryside. I felt a sense of adventure as I gazed out the window at the rows of wheat and corn fields and old farm roads. My dad spoke of Corpus Christi and Aransas Pass, reminiscing on the days of his youth. My mother crocheted a blanket. Steven perused a car manual. Every so often a joint was passed around. I got stoned. Our family didn’t know we were coming so I kept imagining how surprised Billy Wayne and Troy would be to see me but eventually I fell asleep, listening to my dad sing along to a classic country station.

            We stopped at a red light just inside the city limits of Aransas Pass. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes. The salty smell of the Gulf of Mexico permeated the truck’s cab and caressed my nostrils. A convenience store was adorned with shrimp nets covered in sea shells with an anchor directly above the entrance. Dad informed us that Aransas Pass was home to a large population of fisherman and shrimpers, and its economy revolved around the shrimping industry. When we passed a sign declaring Aransas Pass the “Shrimp Capital of the World” my dad joked, “More like the Asshole of the World!”

Wayne McLain Senior owned a piece of land on Gile Road, a dirt road in the rural part of town. There was a white house and several trailer homes on the property. Uncle Wayne lived in the largest, and easily the nicest, of the trailers. Uncle Wayne’s son Junior lived in the house with his family. Unfortunately, Billy Wayne and Troy were asleep when we arrived so I crashed on a fold-out bed in one of the smaller trailers that Uncle Wayne loaned us until we could find our own place.

            The following day Uncle Wayne drove Junior, my dad, my brother and I around town. We rode in his brand new Lincoln Continental, and his 6’4”, four-hundred pound plus frame completely filled the driver’s side. He donned a cowboy hat and spoke with a southern drawl. He had lots of connections around town and offered advice to my father and brother on how to invest their money, where we should live, et cetera. To this day, I wonder how Uncle Wayne was able to live in such relative comfort. He had deep pockets, owned nice vehicles and owned various properties, yet I have no recollection of him ever working. Rumor has it he had ties with several prominent attorneys in Corpus Christi, and he supplied them with clients who had injured themselves offshore on the shrimp boats. He was commissioned for cases settled.

            After several hours of searching for a place to live Uncle Wayne pulled into a lot on the outskirts of town and planted the seeds of our dream.

Pruett’s Trailer Park - FM 1069

November of 1987 - Summer 1988

FM 1069 divides Aransas Pass and Rockport, Texas. It’s out in the middle of nowhere, a good ten miles from the center of both towns in either direction. The property we rented was on the Rockport side, although I went to school in Aransas Pass using the Gile Road address the first month or so. I wanted to hang out with Billy Wayne. The property was a five acre lot that had a maroon two-bedroom house and four trailer homes in disrepair. The idea was to renovate the trailers and rent them out to shrimpers. The reality was that it took most of our money to make just two of them livable and they were too far away from town to attract potential renters. When I reflect on ur dream of owning our own trailer park I can’t help but smile and think of George Strait’s song “Oceanfront Property in Arizona.”

            The land there was covered in thick brush and riotous undergrowth when we first moved in. It was a utopia for me and my cousins. We used machetes to chop the trees and wild growth off of the driveways and trailers. We cut trails into the woods where we built forts and tree houses. Later that year, after Junior went to prison for trying to sell cocaine to an undercover cop, Bonnie and the kids moved into one of our trailers. My cousins and I had the whole summer to explore the woods and get lost in our games and adventures.

            One day we discovered a small pond deep in the forest. For days we made our way to Clay Pond, as we dubbed it.  We had to crawl through twenty dense feet of brush to get there, but we intentionally left the path uncut so only we could get there. The south Texas sun scorched us most days, so swimming in Clay Pond was a welcome respite. We built a small raft using rope and boards from an old pile of lumber that had been left on our property. “King of the Ship” was a favored game of ours. The object was to see who could stay on the raft the longest while the others attempted to knock you off. It was all careless fun until Troy and I noticed movement under the raft one afternoon. Billy Wayne had already jumped into the water and was splashing around. I told him to get out of the water—quickly! From the bank, I used a long stick to tip the raft over and found a nest of water moccasins! We never swam in Clay Pond again.

            Truthfully, the living conditions weren’t very comfortable on FM 1069. I hated drinking the well water. We didn’t have air conditioning either, and the box fans Mom set up were no match for the blistering days that summer. Worst of all were the fleas. There was sand everywhere, and the fleas lived in it. No matter what we did to try to get rid of them they invariably returned. Most nights it was almost impossible to sleep through the fleas tormenting you.

This Bud’s for Me

When we were living on Ashland in Channelview, my dad and brother brought home a black and white pit bull puppy and told me it was mine. My cousin John had been breeding pit bulls for years, and the puppy given to me was a descendant of one of the dogs John had kept for himself. I’d grown up around dogs my entire life, but for one reason or another I’d never had my own dog. I remember watching my puppy’s tiny body tense up as he stood his ground and barked furiously, exhibiting the ferocity exemplary of his breed. He loved me immediately. I rolled around on the carpet of our living room with him half the night, and he followed me everywhere I went. At one point my mom asked what I wanted to call him. I took a toke from the joint that was being passed around and blew smoke in my dog’s face. He sneezed, coughed, shook his head and then growled. I laughed and said, “Bud.”

            In every way Bud became a part of the family, as dogs do. We kept Bud clean and housetrained him, so Mom didn’t mind him hanging out on the couch or sleeping with me. Most nights he did. Out off of FM 1069, Bud was my companion. He followed me through the woods and acted like a watchdog. Bud would warn me of any potential threats. But before Bud was even a year old, tragedy struck. I was in the house one day when I heard a yelp. In a flash, I was outside looking for Bud. Bonnie ran towards me crying and screaming, “Hurry! Some motherfucker in a truck hit Bud!” I ran as fast as I could, and when I made it to the road I found Bud. His small body was broken, covered in blood, lifeless. I tried to help him as I sobbed uncontrollably, but my family pulled me away. Steven jumped in the truck, and Bonnie pointed him in the direction of the truck that had just killed Bud. Bonnie said she saw the guy swerve about ten feet off of the road and hit Bud, as if he was trying to hit him on purpose. Hearing this only increased my anger and deepened my pain. Everyone was in tears by the time my brother returned and said the person who hit Bud had too much of a head start; he’d never catch him.

            Bud’s death was my first experience with the permanent separation from a being I loved. The shock and pain of Bud being there one day, alive and vibrant, then suddenly dead and gone the next devastated me. My family tried to console me. They told me Bud was in Heaven. They smoked a joint with me. They helped me bury him. My dad assured me that if he ever caught the sonofabitch who killed Bud, he’d run him over. Despite the sympathy from my family, the sting of death lingered for a long time. Anytime I visited Bud’s grave or thought about him I cried. I tried to fathom death. What really happens when we die? Will I really see Bud again when I die?

            A year later I found a dead bird under a power line and examined it. Again I thought of Bud and cried. He was a good dog. He’d never bitten anyone. How could a loving God let my dog die? I cursed God that day for allowing the bird and Bud to die.

Troubled Times

The only person who ever rented a trailer from us was Emma Bradshaw. The Bradshaws were a family of inbreds that lived about a mile down the road. Junior called them “the Dots” because they reminded him of our mentally handicapped cousin, Mar, who was fond of rocking in his chair with a comb in his hand while repeating “Dot, dot, dot.” Emma was in her twenties, and she received a monthly government check for her mental deficiencies. Junior and Steven took Emma out to a bar, got her drunk and high, and after all was said and done they’d convinced her to move in.

            Rumor has it that most of my uncles, my cousins and brother slept with Emma. I heard them joke that she was like a door knob—everyone gets a turn. It sounds like they were taking advantage of her, but the truth is, Emma was the smartest of her family and every bit as sharp as most of the guys she was sleeping with. Still, it was disgusting to hear them joke that way.

            Things got rough for us once Emma decided to move to Austin with her ex-boyfriend. My father and brother couldn’t find work and no one wanted to rent a trailer. With no income something had to be done in a hurry. Uncle Wayne came through with two Hefty bags of marijuana. Apparently his connections ran deeper than “some lawyers.” I still have a vivid recollection of being in Emma’s old trailer with my cousins John and Mike, my brother and father when John pulled out an impressive foot long bud of redhair weed. He passed it around for everyone to admire. He said it was too pretty to smoke, that we should frame it, but Dad’s plan was to sell the pot and use the money to get by until he could find a job or we could find renters. He didn’t think it was wise to peddle pot in Aransas Pass or Rockport (remember, he didn’t like shitting in his backyard). Particularly, he didn’t want to sell it to people he didn’t know. He thought the smartest move was to sell it in large quantities to our old friend in Houston, James Terry.

            Houston is about three hundred miles from Rockport. My dad didn’t want to risk driving the dope that far and getting pulled over. He’d be charged with drug-trafficking if he got caught, and drug trafficking is a federal offense with huge penalties in Texas. His solution was to fill up a suitcase with pot and change of clothes for each of us and take me hitchhiking with him. He reasoned that if he took his eight year old son along, no cop in the world would be suspicious enough to search the suitcase. Furthermore, folks would be more inclined to pick him up on the road with me by his side. How many people could be heartless enough to let a little boy walk in the south Texas heat?

            We walked from one side of Rockport to the other before raising our thumbs. Within minutes a balding older man in a beat up pick-up truck pulled to the side of the road and waved us inside. Dad told him our engine blew on the way to Houston. The old man took us as far as Victoria, gave my dad twenty bucks and told us to be careful.

            Once again we stuck our thumbs out, this time on Highway 59. An obese man close to my dad’s age gave us a lift in his big rig. He and my father got along well, talking up a storm the rest of the way to Houston. He dropped us off at a truck stop by the freeway. We walked through a ghetto in downtown Houston. I grew nervous as all the black faces along the embankments and graffiti covered overpass glared at us. My dad, the perennial jokester said, “Just keep walking and look straight ahead. We should be fine as long as they don’t find out what’s in the suitcase because then they’ll be on us like watermelon.”

April Fool’s

After a couple of trips to James Terry’s we ran out of pot. The money made didn’t last either, and once again we struggled. To make matters worse, a couple of men from the dealership in Houston where we got our truck found us. They’d contacted Grandma Kelly, and she gave them our address. I was out in the woods playing when they showed up. When I got back, I stepped into the driveway, machete in hand, to find my father and brother leaning up against the front of our truck with two strangers. They all had beers and were in the middle of what sounded like an amicable conversation. One of the repo men patted my dad on the shoulder and said, “Sam, I gotta take the truck.”

            “Welp,” my dad said. He took a swallow of beer and looked the guy in the eye. “I ain’t gonna let you do no such thing, Mister.”

            “Now, Sam. It’s what’s right. You ain’t made a payment in months.”

            “Boy, you getcha ass off my property. If I catch you around my place again, or anywhere near this truck, I’ll feed you to Dynamite.”

            Dynamite was one of Cousin John’s prize-winning fight dogs. We kept them on our property because John couldn’t have them at his apartment in Aransas Pass. Dynamite was extremely vicious and looked quite menacing prowling back and forth the length of his chain while he watched the strangers. They left when my dad threatened them, but we noticed their car pass our place many times over the span of a week. My mother even saw them parked down the road once. Still, my dad felt safe because he’d chain Dynamite to the truck’s steering wheel every night.

            I’ll never forget the morning of April 1, 1988. My mom cooked breakfast while my dad and brother watched TV in the living room. I went outside and found Dynamite walking freely with his chain around his neck. My first thought was that Dynamite had somehow gotten loose from the tree we normally tied him to, but suddenly I snapped and realized our truck was gone. Later, we figured out that the repo men had been feeding Dynamite meat while we were away. It was their way of befriending him. I rushed inside and shouted, “Our truck is gone! They took our truck!”

            Everyone laughed at me. “Ha! Ha! April Fool’s.”

            “Like we were just born this morning.”

            “No, seriously. Go look!”

            I was beside myself, upset that they thought I was joking. No one budged for about ten minutes. They simply refused to believe me. I was exasperated and finally sat down and acted as if I didn’t care. Finally, my dad got off the couch and peeked out the window.

            “He’s not joking. They got the truck.”

            “I told you so!” I jumped up victoriously. The joy of being right was short-lived though. Their concerned looks reminded me that we were in a world of hurt without any transportation in the middle of nowhere.

The Redfish Camp

We’re a family of musicians. My father played guitar and often drew a crowd with his melodic voice. He has a southern twang that’s reminiscent of Hank Williams Senior. Marina, my brother’s ex girlfriend, said he sounds just like Willie Nelson. Uncle Wayne was a virtuoso of the harmonica and played the steel guitar. Most of his boys played one instrument or another, and everyone could carry a tune well enough. Family get-togethers were always entertaining, with lots of singing and dancing well into the night.

            My father taught Steven and I how to play the guitar. We learned the basics playing old country and western. We sat around for hours watching him play, imitating his finger formations. His fingertips were calloused from years of playing and soon ours were too. He said, “You can play any country song with the basic cords D,G, and A… sometimes a little C or E.

            In those days I grew close to my country roots. Today, I’m embarrassed and repulsed by the backward attitude/views most often associated with country music. The whole hang’em-high-and-let-God-cut-‘em-down approach, not to mention the myriad of antiquated ideals that the majority of country culture still holds so dear, is a huge turn-off for me. But I still have fond memories hanging out with the family, listening to my dad play and sing, being so proud of his skills and wanting to emulate him in every way…. Or it could simply be that I just love the heart-wrenching passion of a good tear-jerking country song.

            There was a bar about 10 miles away from our place on FM 1069 called The Redfish Camp. It got its name from the bay, replete with redfish, which it was built next to. When things got really bad for us financially my father began frequenting The Redfish Camp. His initial intentions were to meet people there in hopes of finding work. The couple that owned the place were sympathetic so they gave him a little money a few nights a week for sleeping in the bar to ward of burglars. The place had been broken into several times. Soon, though, the biggest attraction for my father became the free beer (and sometimes food) he received for singing every night.

            My dad sometimes allowed me to hang out with him at The Redfish Camp. I liked playing pool there, watching him entertaining the crowd and mixing it up with the regulars.

            My dad really had talent.

            There’s a story he tells from his days in the Missouri State Penitentiary. The prison was over 70% black, and about 90% of the participants in the talent shows were too. He didn’t think he stood a chance, but signed up anyway. He took a guitar and got up on stage and did one of his favorite country songs. He received an ovation, which he thought was more out of respect than an appreciation for his performance.

After he was finished he went back to his cell and kicked back on his bunk. Not much later a black friend of his ran down the run looking for him. “Tex! Man, go pick up your two cartons of smokes – you won 2nd place!”

            One night, as I was sitting on a bar stool at the bar, Dad called me onto the stage. We smoked some weed before we arrived at the bar so the full house didn’t intimidate me. He handed me his cup of beer and told me to chug it as he introduced me on the microphone. All the patrons clapped after I drained the beer and showed them my bitter-beer face! He announced that we were going to do a song and handed me the mic. At first I was confused because I didn’t know many songs. Then he began picking the tune and I knew immediately which one he had in mind. Right on time I sang,

“Up in smoke

Is where my money goes

In my lungs

And sometimes up my nose

When troubled times begin to bother me

I take a toke

And all my cares

Go up in smoke”

The entire place erupted in cheers and applause. I was hugged by the ladies and smacked on the back by the men. Everyone gave me a dollar! I came away with about 40 bucks. Dad let me keep five!

Finger Lickin’ Good

The weeks turned into months without my father or brother finding real jobs. My dad practically lived at The Redfish Camp the summer of 1988, while we barely survived. For the longest we ate only beans and potatoes every single night, no meat whatsoever. We used to joke that we never ate the same thing on successive night because one night we’d have “beans and taters” and the next “taters and beans!” You needed a sense of humor to get through each day back then.

            Soon, I took matters into my own hands. The Evans’ owned the property next to ours. They raised chickens, and their roosters woke us up every morning. One day I was out in the woods with Dynamite, not far from the fence that separated our properties, when Dynamite broke away from me. He crawled through the fence, darted into the Evans’ yard, and caught a chicken! Thankfully, no one was home or he would’ve likely been shot. I hopped the fence and grabbed Dynamite by the collar, pulled him back through the fence, dead chicken clenched between his teeth.

            As he ate his catch a thought occurred to me: surely the Evans wouldn’t miss one more chicken, right? I jumped the fence back into their yard and quickly captured another chicken. I brought it home and chopped its head off with a machete, then plucked all of its feathers and washed it in hot water. I presented it to my mom and she demanded to know where I got it from? I lied and said it was in the woods… on our property. I’m not sure if she believed me but she took the chicken and prepared it with our meal that night. It tasted terrible, unlike any chicken I’d ever tried, and no one ate it. I later learned that you must bleed the chicken right before you can eat it!

            I stole at least five more chickens, and quite a few eggs, from the Evans’ before Ms. Evans let my mother know that she suspects our dogs of eating her chickens. Ms. Evans warned her that she’d shoot first and ask questions later if she caught any of them in her yard. My mom forbade me from stealing any more of their chickens, but that didn’t stop me from raiding the other yards up and down FM 1069, stealing eggs and chickens!

In the Genes?

Billy Wayne’s head appeared at the entrance of my tree house as a I hammered a nail into the foundation. My foot was on his head before he could enter. “What do you think you’re doing, Billy Fuck? I told you you can’t come in until the floor is sturdy enough to hold your fat ass!”

            “You been working on it all day,” He whined, tried to push my foot away. “Ain’t it strong enough for me yet?”

            “I told you I would let you know when we can test it! Now get the fuck down!”

            He climbed down, complaining the whole way. He yelled at me from the ground. “I’m gonna tell Uncle Sam on you. He’ll make you let me in.”

            “My dad’s home?”

            Yup, and I’m tellin.”

            I hadn’t seen my dad in a few days. I dropped the hammer and ran home, hoping to catch him before he left. My parents were arguing when I walked through the door. Without another word my dad walked past me and out the door. My mother was on the couch crying. “What’s wrong, Mom?”

            Why don’t you go ask your piece of shit daddy!”

 

I found my father outside sitting at the picnic table. I sat next to him and tentatively asked, “Why’s Mom crying?”

            “Sometimes a man has to make a tough decision, Son. I made one today. This ol’ gal that comes to the bar has a daddy that runs a business. I figure if I move in with her I can go to work for him and funnel money to you and your momma. It’s the only thing I know to do at this point.”

            His words didn’t sink in at first. Maybe because I was naïve or perhaps didn’t want to believe my ears. My father had just told me he was leaving us to live with another woman. He hugged me and said he hoped I understood. I didn’t understand. I shook away from him and went to comfort my mother.

            Close to a week passed without any word from my father. Mom was a nervous wreck, constantly worrying how we’d make it. More than once she mentioned finding a phone and calling her mother in Houston to ask her if we could move in. Steven thought he would have a better chance of finding a steady job in Houston.

I was awakened by loud voices coming from our living room. I went to investigate. My father, mother and Steven were talking with a strange man named Bob. They were in a frenzy trying to figure something out. My father took command. “Look, we ain’t got the time to pussyfoot around. Hurry the fuck up and pack some clothes and get your asses in the car.”

            As we piled into Bob’s car I noticed my father clutching his side, grimacing. There was blood on his shirt. We rode down the road and Steven related the events of the night: My brother caught a ride to The Redfish Camp earlier in the night in hopes of talking sense to our father. Upon his arrival, our father was two sheets to the wind and in the midst of a heated exchange with the father of the woman my dad left us for, Whiskers. Steven pulled our father outside to calm him down, but Whiskers followed them and continued to mouth off. My father unfolded his Buck knife and stabbed Whiskers multiple times before my brother and Bob could break them up. Dad said they were the only ones outside so he turned the knife on himself to make it look like self-defense. Bob directed my father and brother to his car and drove them to our place.

             Bob drove us to his house in Rockport. He must’ve really thought of my father as a true friend because he allowed us to stay with him for a couple of weeks while my father healed and the heat died down. In the interim my brother, mother and I made trips back to our place on FM 1069 with Bob to collect things. My father wasn’t arrested or even questioned in the stabbing of Whiskers.

****  ****  ****

Is aggression/violence innate or learned behavior? This is a question I’ve asked myself many times in attempting to understand my father, one of the most violent men I’ve ever met. He wasn’t an abusive father or husband; his violence was directed towards those he felt were a threat to him or his family. Unless he was drunk, then it extended to anyone who “contested” him. Was he born that way? His father beat him and his family religiously. Dad often described Grandpa Pruett as “one mean sombitch,” a sentiment echoed by many in our family. Of my father’s siblings only Aunt Lema shared his mean streak. Uncle Dewey and Bill are very passive. I never knew Leroy, he killed himself in the 1960’s, but dad says he was a scrapper, yet mild-mannered.

            It’s possible that there’s a genetic component to my father’s aggressive disposition, but I’ve come to believe that it’s mostly a conditioned behavior. He spent his youth, and the majority of his life, in correctional facilities. In Texas prisons only the strong survive. The weak are beaten, robbed, raped and exploited at every turn. I learned early on that you must fight in here. As soon as you step off the bus from the free world all eyes are on you. The predators look for any sign of weakness and they challenge you repeatedly. If you fight back, whether you win or not, they tend to redirect their focus on those who won’t fight back. You must meet any form of perceived disrespect with aggression. After a time it becomes reflexive to lash out at those you consider a threat.

            One of the many challenges people face when they are released from prison is breaking the conditioning. Obviously, you can’t bust someone in the mouth when they cut in front of you in line at a restaurant or you’ll end up in jail. In prison, if you allow such blatant disrespect to go unchecked you invite a plethora of problems. Sadly, there were times when my father forgot where he was while he was free.

Marcy’s House – Aransas Pass

Late Summer of 1988

My cousin Marcy, Aunt Lema’s third daughter, was in her early 20’s in 1988 when we moved in with her. She lived with her husband, Donnie Clifton, and their four children – Jerry, Tommy, Tabitha, and Don Don – in a cozy 3 bedroom house behind the post office in Aransas Pass. A free spirit with an affable and outgoing personality, Marcy made a living working as a waitress. Unlike her brother Junior, Marcy’s kids were well-mannered and disciplined and their house stayed clean and comfortable as a result. She said we could stay with her as long as we needs to get back on our feet.

            It was still summertime, and I spent my days outside hanging out with Jerry and Tommy, one and two years younger than me, respectively. Their hair was bright blond like mine, and we shared similar body builds, so people often thought we were brothers. We always got along great. They thought of me as their older, much cooler, cousin Robert. In contrast to Billy Wayne and Troy, they tried to imitate me rather than defeat me.

            They took me down to an office building with a brand new concrete parking lot, perfect for riding their skateboards. None of us knew how to skate, but we had a blast racing each other, jumping a ramp we made, and pushing each other while one of us laid on the skateboard, arms and legs outstretched like Superman.

            Frank and Raymond Tejarina skated into the parking lot. They had long black hair, wore metal T-Shirts and cut-off shorts. Apparently my cousins knew them and were intimidated by them because they got quiet when they showed up. Frank skated around us, talking trash, flaunting his skills. He skidded to a halt directly in front of me, whipped his hair around, and popped his skateboard in his hand in one motion. He was a stocky kid, by far the biggest of all of us, and he stuck his chest out confidently with a smile. “I’m the king of this motherfucker, Esse! Who the fuck are you?”

"That's our cousin Robert." Jerry said with pride. "He'll kick your ass, Frank!"

"There's a new king in town." I said matter-of-factly.

Frank seemed amused. He grabbed me by the shirt and slung me to the ground, laughing. I got back up and charged him, sending both of us tumbling to the ground. He was bigger and stronger, but I was quicker and just as mean. Still, he pinned me and slapped his hand on the ground. "One, two, THREE!"

He jumped up pumping his fists in the air. "Naw, I'm still da king!"

It follows that Frank and Raymond became my best friends. They were both born on September 2nd , but Frank was one year older. For over a year I got away with lying to them that I was born in '78 with Frank. I lied because Raymond was much smaller than me and I didn't want to be his age. I beat Raymond at almost everything; the real competition was between Frank and me. On my 10th birthday my mom told them how old I really was and Raymond was ecstatic. "You mean I'm really 16 days older than you?! Fuckin' A!"

Sea Weed

Shortly after we met, Frank and Raymond showed me around Aransas Pass. We walked along the pier where all of the shrimp boats were docked. One of the things I liked about them - besides their toughness - was that they were every bit as wild and daring as me. We snuck onto unoccupied boats and played around until we noticed someone boarding, then we’d jump back onto the pier. We didn't want to get stuck out at sea!

In the cabin of one boat we found a large Ziploc bag filled with marijuana. Without a word I stuffed it into my shorts, pulled my shirt down, and we slipped off the boat. We quickly left the docks and found an alley to discuss things.

"Do you guys know what this stuff is?" I asked.

"Yeah." They said, faces not betraying their thoughts. "Fuckin' pot," Raymond said.

"Fuckin' pot," I echoed. "What should we do?"

"Um, I don't know? What do you think?" Frank asked. Raymond stared at his shoes.

"Let's take it to the police station, let them know where we’ve found it. But we can't say it was on a boat or they'll know we were sneaking around. We can say we found it on one of the tables NEXT to the boat," I offered. Internally, I was torn. I wanted to keep it, take it home to my family. I just didn't know where these kids stood; and I didn't want them knowing I got high.

They agreed with what I said, and we walked to the police station. Once inside I handed the bag over to a cop behind a desk. I relayed our fabricated story to her as she listened intently. She simply thanked us and sent us on our way, told us to be careful and have a nice day.

We left the station. Nobody spoke for several blocks, everyone lost in their own thoughts. Finally, I said, "Man, we should've tried some of it."

"Shit, I was thinking the same thing!" Frank looked disgusted.

"Yeah!" Raymond chimed.

"Man, why didn't you fuckin' say something then?!" I demanded.

They looked at each other. "We thought you were against it or something," Frank said.

"Hell no! I thought y'all were! I smoke pot!"

They said they've been getting high with their uncle. I said my parents are cool; they let me smoke with them. We all felt stupid for turning the pot over to the cops. I took them to Marcy's house and pinched her stash, and rolled us a couple of joints, and we got high in her backyard, laughing at ourselves. Over the years the story became infamous when we told people how we met.

Lamont Street-Aransas Pass

Fall Of 1988

My father and brother went to work with Donnie on a shrimp boat after we moved in with him and Marcy. They were in the Gulf for 30 days and returned with over a thousand bucks combined. Steven got seasick, though, and neither liked the idea of being out at sea for 30 day stretch. So, my dad scoured the town looking for another job. He landed one as a maintenance worker for the Government Housing Projects in Aransas Pass, and soon got my brother a job there too. Things were looking up for us for a change.

We moved into a 2 bedroom brick house on Lamont St., a couple of miles from Marcy’s house. We were able to get an old Ford truck and rent furniture and a home TV/entertainment center. The place didn’t have central A/C and heating, but we had two A/C window units and several box fans – total improvement from the conditions on FM 1069.

            My dad put up a basketball goal in our driveway and played hoops with me most days after work. The front yard was large enough for football games, which became customary on weekends when Junior brought his family over. The men would watch the games on TV – they were Dallas Cowboys fans, we pulled for the Houston Oilers- while the woman cooked and gossiped in the kitchen. After the games the fellas took it to the yard to play football. Junior played quarterback for team McLain, my dad was the field general for team Pruett. Frank and Raymond, whose father lived in another town, often joined us with Jerry and Tommy to balance the teams out.

            On Sundays when no one showed up I watched the Oilers play with my dad and Steven on our living room couch. Football wasn’t that big of a deal to me way back then. I loved playing it, but watching it seemed boring. The quality time spent with my father and brother was nice, though.

            I got the job selling newspapers with Frank and Raymond early that Fall. We were paid a commission so it became a competition, as everything was, to see who could sell the most. Location was the key. The post office was by far the best spot to set up shop, but they only allowed two kids at a time to sell newspapers there. Johnny Joe Otero, a teenager, was assured a spot there every weekend because he could kick all our asses. (Rumor has it Johnny Joe could save the princess on the Super Mario Brothers arcade, although I never saw him do it.) Frank, Raymond and I would alternate each weekend on who’d work with Johnny Joe. The others would hit the H.E.B. supermarket, another good place to sell newspapers.

            My newspaper selling days were short-lived. On several occasions I talked Frank and Raymond into spending all of our money, including the company’s. Our boss let us slide the first couple of times that we showed up with bullshit stories of being beaten up and robbed by older boys, or losing the bag we kept our money. Once, we even told him we dropped our bag when a dog chased us and couldn’t find it later. We took his kindness for weakness one too many times and he fired us.

Five Finger Discount

When we sold Newspapers we always had money for arcade games and snacks. There used to be a chain of convenience stores in south Texas called The Icebox. Aransas Pass had two of them – one on either side of town – in addition to about seven other stores. I loved going to The Icebox to play Super Mario Brothers and eat their fried burritos covered with melted cheese! After we were fired, though, money was scarce for such things.

            One weekend we were at my house getting stoned, watching television, when I was overcome with a bad case of the munchies. My refrigerator didn’t satisfy my cravings; it must’ve been a few days before payday because there wasn’t much to munch on. I asked my friends if they had any money? They didn’t. Raymond had an idea. “There’s always ‘five finger discount!”

            I’d never heard the phrase. Frank explained by wiggling his fingers and said, “Pay with your fingers, man!”

            We walked to The Icebox. Raymond told us to distract the clerk behind the counter. We asked him stupid questions while Raymond disappeared down an aisle. Moments later he rejoined us and asked a few questions of his own. Raymond acted disappointed about them not having a specific candy bar and walked out the door. We followed him down the street and he passed out candy bars. “See? Five finger discount!”

            For months we walked from one end of Aransas Pass to the other, stealing from stores. We pigged out on candy bars, snack cakes, and chips, and washed it down with sodas. By late Fall it was cold enough outside to wear jackets, which we loaded the sleeves down with our plunder. The game plan was invariably the same: When a store was devoid of customers two of us distracted the clerk while the other stole. If the store had customers, we all spread out. We ate our fill and brought the rest to my house for later.

            My parents never wondered where I got the junk food from. They thought I still worked for the newspaper. You see, being fired didn’t deter us. We knew they kept pallets of freshly pressed newspapers by the back door of their building every morning. Most weekends – when school was out – we snuck up and stole as many newspapers as we could carry off while no one was looking. My dad often saw me at various places selling newspapers long after I’d been cut.

            Early one morning my dad woke me up to get ready for work at the job I no longer held. He dropped me off at a corner where Frank and Raymond were and gave me 10 dollars in food stamps for lunch. My friends and I went to the nearest store and played their arcades. I bought us all something to eat and drink.

             Frank and I were in the middle of a game when Raymond alerted us to a new rack of porno magazines! The three of us left the arcades to check them out. There was a crowd of people in the store so we felt safe looking at the covers under the plastic. We each found one we liked and stuffed our pants with it.

            The store was ran by a father and son combo. The old man rang up customers as we headed for the exit. Frank led the way, Raymond and I right behind him. Just as I crossed the threshold of the door the son, a dark-haired man in his twenties, burst from behind the counter and shouted, “Stop those kids!”

            Frank and Raymond broke off running. I stumbled and fell. I tried to regain my footing and that enabled the store owner to catch me. He snatched me up by the shirt and pulled me back into the store. I kicked and screamed, trying to get away, but he had me. He twisted me around and lifted my shirt, removed the magazine, and handed it to his father. He told his father, “I’m sick and tired of these punk kids stealing from us. His friends got away. I’m calling the cops.”        I began to cry and beg him not to call the police. I sobbed and wheezed, snot running down my face. I was terrified at the thought of being arrested. “Please don’t call the cops! I won’t ever do it again, I promise!”

            For a moment I thought I was reaching the old man. He told his son to put the phone down. He spoke sternly to me, tried to drive home the importance of working for what you wanted in life as opposed to stealing it. I agreed with everything he said, hoping, he’d just let me go. Finally, he told his son that he thought I learned my lesson and to let me go home. The son was irate. “Pop, if we let this little fucker go he will do it again. The only way he’s gonna learn anything is if the cops get ahold of his ass. Please, let me do this my way this time.

            “I’m sorry, son”. The father said to me before walking away to tend to his customers.

            A cop car showed up and the cop spoke with the angry son. I was placed in the backseat of the car. The officer lectured me from the front seat without looking at me. He asked me who the other kids were, the ones that got away. I told him I’d just met them, didn’t know their names. I’m not sure he believed me but he didn’t press the matter. He asked me where I lived. I was shocked that he drove me home.

            My father was in the driveway when we arrived. The cop stepped out of his car, shut the door, shook my father’s hand. As they conversed my dad’s eyes kept cutting at me. I knew I was in deep shit.

            The cop let me out of the car and warned me to stop stealing. My father ordered me inside our house while he saw the cop off. I waited in trepidation. I was trembling when my father opened the door, and I cringed when he bit down on his tongue and bottom lip. He slapped me on the side of the head and I fell back onto the couch. He shook me violently by the shirt. “What the hell is wrong with you, boy? Stealing from stores? The police brining you home? You trying to get me thrown in jail and you taken from us like Tammie was?”

            “No, sir.” I cried

            “Well, that’s just what’ll happen, you keep this shit up. I work hard to take care of you. You need something or want something, ask me. I ain’t got it, you save your money up. But no more stealing, okay? You scared me half to death when I saw that cop pull up with you in the backseat.”

            “Yes, sir.”

            He calmed down and hugged me, told me he was sorry for hitting me and that he loved me. I was determined not to steal again. In fact, I never stole from another store in Aransas Pass after that day. I was tempted many times, but the fear of being caught kept me from it. I still hadn’t learned the lesson that taking from others isn’t right.

Kieburger Elementary School

Aransas Pass’ population is probably 85% Hispanic, which was reflected in their school system. I attended Kieburger Elementary for all of the 3rd and 4th grades. When we first arrived in south Texas I went to another elementary school in Aransas Pass (I think it was simply called Aransas Pass Elementary) for the 2nd grade, then I finished that grade at Rockport elementary. At Kieburger I was one of about twenty white kids, and there was only one black kid. Despite all of that I got along well with my schoolmates.

            The only teacher I remember by name is Ms. Driscoll. She was an older lady with thick, long silver hair that she kept braided into a ponytail. She was super nice and had remarkable patience, which I tested regularly. Once, we were doing an art project. I kept ripping my paper up in frustration because I didn’t like how it was turning out. She sat beside me, wrapped her arm around my shoulder, grabbed my hand with hers and guided me through it. She said it didn’t have to be perfect, it was effort she was looking for. She wanted us to do our best in everything we did. I made A’s and B’s in every subject, but art intimidated me. I never had the patience for it. Ms. Driscoll wouldn’t let me quit, though. After she showed me what she was looking for I tried again on my own. Again I was disgusted with the result, but she applauded my effort and encouraged me to practice.

All the students loved Ms. Driscoll, especially when she brought treats to class!

            During my 3rd grade year Sheriff Linda Thompson gave a speech to our class. She was tall, blonde and gorgeous. All the boys were on their best behavior, captivated by her. Several police officers showed us a suitcase with a variety of drugs protected under a sheet of glass. Labels identified each drug. The purpose was to show us the drugs so we’d know what they looked like and what to avoid. There were many colored pills, powders, herbs and syringes. Most of the stuff I hadn’t seen before.

            Sheriff Thompson spoke about the dangers of drugs and gave us advice about how to act if offered any by strangers. “Run and tell someone!” She related her experiences with addicts who were either in prison or a slave to drugs, and she cautioned us about the company we keep. The one thing that she said that still reverberates through my head to this day: “Over half of you,” She pointed at the entire class. “Will end up in prison one day. I’m not trying to scare you, just stating the statistical facts. Keep that in mind and try to stay in the half that remains free. Doing drugs will likely lead you to prison.”

            At Kieburger everything was a competition. Academics came easy to me (when I wasn’t high). There were only a few of my classmates that consistently matched my grades. I remember Mandy, a cute Jewish girl with long black hair, being the best writer. She ate my dust in Math. Maria and Jose joined Mandy and I as the brightest in the class. It became a game for us to see who’d not only score the highest grade on papers but finish first… I didn’t have any peers in the cafeteria – I cleaned my try first every time and eyed the other kids’ lunches!

            The real challenges were on the playground and in gym class. Our coach was an old guy, skinny, with thick glasses and a nasally voice. He timed us doing exercises, counted how many we could do each in 60 seconds, and graded us accordingly. Frank and Ramon were my biggest competition doing squats, push-ups and sit-ups. No one could touch me on the pull-up bar. Most days I could bust 20 plus straight without breaking a sweat. There wasn’t a single kid in school who could do more than 15 straight other than me. Coach once told a visiting Junior High coach, “There isn’t a boy over there (in the Junior High) that can do as many pull-ups in a row as Robert Pruett!”

Such accolades inspired me.

            I couldn’t kick a kickball as far as Frank (no one could), but I could place the ball where I wanted it, and ran the bases well, so I was usually a top three pick to play. Ramon had all the moves in soccer, and Brandon could shoot a basketball lights out, but I was the fastest kid in school. At recess we all wrestled behind the gym where the teachers wouldn’t catch us. Frank was the undisputed “toughest kid in school”, but he was challenged by the likes of Roman, Jeremy and me. Raymond was fighter, too, but he was just so small and he didn’t win many matches.

            All through elementary school I excelled in class, participated in most extracurricular activities, but I was the biggest loser in conduct. I liked making people laugh, I was a smartass, and was labeled a class clown by the teachers. My grade for behavior was usually a U, for unsatisfactory.

U Street House – Aransas Pass

Winter – Summer of 1989

In the winter of 1989 we moved into a blue 3 bedroom/2bath house with a 2 car garage. My father and brother had both received pay raises at the projects, enabling us to move into a better neighborhood. The house was situated at the top of the bend adjoining two streets in the best neighborhood I ever lived in. We had a huge fenced in backyard where we kept Dynamite. Steven and I had separate bedrooms, although I often fell asleep on the couch watching movies and playing games. In the nine years that my father was free this was our most secure time, financially. Mom got new furniture, we had cable TV and a phone line installed, the pantries stayed stocked with groceries, and dad bought me the new Sega Genesis! Life was great.

            The neighborhood was quiet. Most of the residents on our street were older, including Ms. Driscoll and her husband. The only kids around were high-schoolers, none of which wanted to hang out with a nine year old, no matter how cool I was! Frank and Raymond had moved, and all my cousins lived on the other side of town, so there wasn’t anyone to hang out with. My cousins did ask to spend the night a lot so they could play Sega with me. For the most part I stuck to myself, rode my bike through the neighborhood, watched cable TV or played Sega, or I played in the backyard with Dynamite.

            My mother divorced my father while he was still in the Missouri State Penitentiary. She’d grown jaded after years of raising his children, alone, while he went to prison. Of course she never stopped loving him, and, more practically, needed his help so she always took him back when he was released. They talked a lot of remarrying in the years after he was released in 1986, but they either didn’t have the money or the timing wasn’t right for one reason or another. That is until the spring of 1989 when they announced they were getting married…. again!

            They decided to remarry on April 18, 1989, my niece Samantha’s first birthday. The wedding took place at our house off the U, in the living room. The place was jam-packed all day and smelled of food, alcohol, and pot. All of the family in south Texas showed, even the ones we were feuding with, and they brought all their friends. Roughly 70% of those attending I’d never met before.

            My mother wore a beautiful white dress, my father had on his best button-down, long sleeve shirt and blue jeans. I stood by the couch next to my brother as our parents exchanged their vows, then kissed. Once the applause died down my mother, tears in her eyes, told the room, “The second time is the charm – I’ll never divorce him again!”

Everyone burst with laugher.

            A stage was set-up in the garage with guitars, amplifiers, drums, a bass, and microphones. The driveway and street were crowded. My father, Uncle wayne, and their musician buddies performed for hours after the ceremony. I sat on a chair just inside the garage, stoned, drinking beer. The ambience was warm and friendly, with lots of conversation and laughter between songs. My head started spinning the more I drank, so I went inside and lay on the couch. I remember thinking that life doesn’t get better than this before passing out.

You’ve Got My Seat

Though I’ve never stepped foot in the Beacon 44 I know the place’s set-up from all the stories I’ve heard: A long bar with stools on one side of the room, a small stage on the other and table in between. When we lived on the U street my father spent a lot of time there on the weekends, singing for free beer.

            Danny Wildman was a good friend of the family. He was close to my brother’s age, had curly brown hair, and sounded like a frog. He was as widely known for the four-finger quarter sacks of pot he sold as the beat-up Volkswagen “slug bug” car he drove. One weekend he burst through our front door. “Sam’s pissed!”

            My father staggered in behind him. My brother and I were on the couch. Danny Wildman continued as my dad receded down the hallway to his bedroom. “This fat Mexican disrespected Sam. He won’t listen to me. Talk to him, Steven.”

            Danny Wildman nervously reconstructed what happened at the Beacon 44: our dad was singing on stage as Danny Wildman flirted with a barfly. After his set was over our dad went to his table, where he had his cigarettes and beer, and tapped the obese Mexican on the shoulder. “Excuse me, mister. You’ve got my seat.”

            The Mexican was in the middle of a conversation and brushed my father off. “Fuck-off, old man. Find another seat.”

            My father casually gathered his stuff from the table after he realized he didn’t have his Buck knife. He drained his beer and found Danny Wildman, who drove him to the bar, and ran it down to him. He then told Danny Wildman to take him home, he needed his knife. On the ride to our place he tried to calm my dad down, to no avail.

            Danny Wildman tried again when my father emerged from the hallway. My father can be obstinate, and on that day he was unrelenting. He was going back to the Beacon 44, end of discussion. Danny Wildman acquiesced and drove my dad and Steven back to the bar.

            The big Mexican was loitering around the entrance when they arrived. Steven approached him first. “You got a fuckin’ problem with my dad?”

            The man knocked my brother to the ground. In the next instant my father was on him, stabbing him repeatedly, causing him to double over in agony. Steven and Danny Wildman pulled my father off the guy and the three of them fled in Danny Wildman’s slug bug. Once again we had to move abruptly. Danny Wildman drove my father and me to Ingleside, a town over, to my cousin Marcy’s apartments. Mom and Steven stayed behind to pack. I never stepped foot in the house off the U again.

            At Marcy’s place my father recounted what happened for her, Aunt Lema and Uncle Ricky. Dad thought it would be best to leave Aransas Pass, get as far away as possible. Houston seemed like a logical destination. He left word for my mother and Steven to get as much of our stuff as possible to Marcy’s and hang right there until he sent for them. Uncle Ricky drove my father and I to Houston that night.

            We rode in a heavy rainstorm. Houston was under a floor warning, and we got stuck in the middle of traffic. In minutes the care was submerged and we had to abandon it. We walked to Ramada Inn, high atop a hill, where we rented a room for the night. We were soaked and tired. Uncle Ricky lamented the loss of his car.

            The next day we somehow made it to James Terry’s house in Cloverleaf. I smoked a lot of pot the next couple of days while my dad and Ricky worked with James Terry cutting trees. Then Aunt Lema called with good news: the police were not looking for my dad. Miraculously, he wasn’t identified in the stabbing. Or perhaps the Mexican just kept his mouth shut? Snitches tend to disappear in south Texas. Regardless, the three of us decided to hitchhike back to Ingleside.

            We walked more with Uncle Ricky tagging along. I guess people are reluctant to pick up two grown men, kid with them or not. We got rides, though, and made it about twenty miles from Ingleside before the last one dropped us off.

            Even if we didn’t get another ride we thought we were home free. That is until a cop pulled over in front of us. He seemed nice, understanding even, and told us to hop in, he’d take us the rest of the way. Everything seemed cool, except that the cop ran my dad and Ricky’s names. Ricky had warrants for his arrest, but my father was clear. The cop dropped us off at Marcy’s and took Ricky to Jail. We had to break the bad news to Aunt Lema.

Avenue A Property – Aransas Pass

Summer of 1989

After Junior was released from prison Uncle Wayne moved him and his family to Avenue A, another place out in the sticks. There were three trailer homes and a large storage building on about two acres of land. The largest trailer was home to Uncle Wayne and Junior’s bunch. Mike and Tammie lived in a mini trailer on the side with Samantha, their one year old. The other trailer was owned by a mysterious friend of Uncle Wayne’s, someone I don’t recall ever seeing.

            Once again we’d fallen on hard times. My father and brother lost their jobs at the Projects for missing work in the aftermath of the stabbing. Marcy already had a full house and feared eviction if she took us in, so we joined Uncle Wayne’s family.

            It was never pleasant living with Junior’s family. Particularly when we stayed with them. If they lived with us my mom put her foot down and forced Junior’s kids to pick up after themselves, to help clean house. She couldn’t stand a dirty house. But when we lived with them, Junior’s kids ran amuck and were very defiant to my mother. “You’re not the boss of us, Aunt Marcia! This is our house!” Junior was too lazy to get off the couch and keep his kids in line. Bonnie worked all day, and, consequently, their place suffered. All the kids wet the bed. Billy Wayne couldn’t hold his mud. There were piles of dirty clothes in every room, broken toys and games strewn everywhere. Their pets weren’t house-trained. Box fans only circulated the stench in the hot and humid south Texas heat.

            The day we moved in, Tonya, the eldest of the two girls, wanted to show me something. I followed her into the kitchen and she pointed to a cabinet above the sink. She wanted me to open it for her, I thought. Maybe she just couldn’t reach it, was too scared to climb the counter. I crawled up there and opened it. Hundreds, if not thousands, of cockroaches poured onto me! I flew off the counter screaming, dusting them off of me. Tonya laughed at me and ran away!

            I got to sleep in Mike and Tammie’s trailer some nights. Since Samantha was a toddler Uncle Wayne made sure they had an A/C window unit, which kept their place nice and cool. All of us kids tried to sneak in there to cool off throughout the sweltering summer days, but my sister rarely let Junior’s kids inside. “They stank,” she said. Me being her brother, and quite hygienic I might add, she didn’t mind me being inside. She’d beat my cousins away with a broom!

Boys Will Be Boys

The property on Avenue A was cut into a thicket, and, like our old place on FM 1069, it awakened my love for the outdoors. My cousins had a thick rope (taken from a tug boat) tied to the limb of a giant oak tree in their yard. We’d climb the tree and stand on the branches, perhaps twenty feet off the ground, while someone below tossed you the rope. The branches were long and strong enough to run along them and swing off the tree. We were reckless kids, though, always trying to hurt each other. The one on the ground either had a stick or clump of dirt waiting on you as you swung past, hoping to knock you off! The object was to ride your momentum around them, and when you neared them use your legs to incapacitate them! On the return swing, if you made it that far, you not only had to avoid the ground person but those still in the tree waiting for their turn. They’d have switches ready for you! It was more fun than it probably sounds!

            As boys will do, I fought Billy Wayne and Troy all the time. Sometimes over a game or stupid argument, sometimes for sport. Billy Wayne was the biggest of the three, but he was fat. Troy and I were long and lean and usually came out on top against him… unless he managed to get on top of us first! One time, I knocked Billy Wayne down, pinned his arms with my knees and squeezed his cheeks together tightly as I yelled at him. His mom, Bonnie, yanked me off of him and screamed at me. “Why are you being a bully?”

            “He started it!” I protested.

            “When he gets older he’ll be twice your size and beat your little ass!”

            “Yeah?” I was still hot about whatever he did to me. “I better get mine in now then, huh?” Billy Wayne was on all fours, trying to get back up. I ran and kicked him in the side, sent him back down wailing, then ran off laughing.

            Another time I chased Troy for eating my candy bar. He was a fast little fucker, but didn’t have my speed. He did have a lead on me and ran full speed, but I was gaining on him. There was a metal cable attached to two trees that our mothers used as a clothes-line. No clothes were on it. I thought he’d seen it, but as he neared it he turned his head to check his lead, smiled at his advantage, and clotheslined himself in the neck! He flew feet first through the air and landed hard on his back about 10 feet away. He was in great pain, held his throat and cried, and I knelt beside him. He thought I was still out to get him and turned away. I told him it was cool, tried to calm him down, asked him if he was okay? He found his breath and let me know he was okay. I joked with him about his flight, his misfortune, and we laughed together. Our mothers watched from a back window and said we were a couple of idiots.

Lost

Down the road on Avenue A was a pasture with about 20 head of cattle. We liked playing there, messing with them. I was down there one morning with Billy Wayne, Troy and Tonya and their dog. I wanted to explore the woods behind the pasture and, naturally, the boys and their dog followed. The going was difficult because the brush was dense, the land arid, and soon Billy Wayne retreated. He was just too big to go any further. Troy and I made it to a clearing with power lines, the dog right with us. I wanted to keep going, see what we could find, but Troy wanted to go home and did. The dog shared my sense of adventure and stuck with me.

            To me it was a journey through the wilderness; I was exploring uncharted territory, searching for hidden treasures. I thought I might find a hidden cave, a magical river or lake. The possibilities were endless as I strove forward, dog by my side.

            Unfortunately, all I found was thicker brush the deeper I went. The trees were dead and dry, the ground cracked and hard. An hour into my journey I gave up and tried to retrace my path back to the pasture.

            It was incredibly hot and humid. I sweated profusely trekking through the dense dry wood. For awhile I thought I was making progress until I came to a clearing that I’d previously passed. I’d gone in a circle, lost my sense of direction. I was growing tired and confused. I admitted to myself that I was lost.

            After several more hours of moving slowly through the woods I got caught in some branches. I panicked and ripped wildly at the limbs that pierced me, crawled furiously under seemingly impenetrable growth, and finally collapsed to the ground in tears. I dug my fingers into the hard ground until they bled. I cursed myself for being so stupid as to get lost. The dog was still with me and licked my face. For some reason that only angered me and I hit him, told him to go home and save himself. He whined and jumped back. Immediately I felt like crap and called him back to me. He came and I petted him, hugged him, said I was sorry. I talked to him, asked him what to do? He didn’t know. He was following my stupid ass. I stopped feeling sorry for myself and told the dog to come on, we have to keep moving or die.

            I was lost for about 10 hours. The sky darkened and I was convinced I would die. Suddenly, I stumbled upon a dirt road! Rejuvenated, I ran in one direction until the road ended at another familiar road. Once again, I cried, this time out of joy and relief, and I walked home. Id’ been on the move all day, but I’d only travelled about five miles.

            I was exhausted and dirty when I walked through the front door. My mom was mad at me, demanded to know where I’d been? She said my father and Junior were out in the car looking for me. She calmed down when I told her what happened. She begged me not to go out in the woods alone again. Trust me, lesson learned.

For Better or Worse

I noticed an increasing tension between my parents at Uncle Wayne’s place. One night while everyone ate, my dad showed up drunk. I heard him yelling at my mother in the middle bedroom, then they carried it outside. Steven and I sat our plates down and followed.

            Our parents were in a heated exchange by the car. It sounded like money was the culprit. My father and Steven had yet to find jobs and it was wearing on our father. He shouted at our mother and, suddenly, shoved her against the car and put the finger in her face.

            My brother was on him in a flash, slamming his fist into his head, driving him to the ground. “You wanna hit my momma, motherfucker? Hit me!” My mother begged them to stop as they rolled over the ground. Steven pinned my father down and said, “I know shit’s bad, man. Ain’t no reason to take it out on mom. If you ever hit her again I’ll kill you.”¨

            My father had calmed down, as did Steven. My brother helped him up and my dad wrapped his arms around my brother, told him he has right for standing up for his mother, that he loved him and was proud of him. Dad then embraced our mother, told her he was sorry. That was the only time I ever remember my father hitting my mother.

Lazy Acres Trailer Park – Aransas Pass

Fall of 1989 – Summer of 1990

My dad and Steven got jobs with Donnie Clifton again, this time with an offshore oil drilling company. By the time school started in the Fall of 1989 we were able to move into the Lazy Acres trailer park in Aransas Pass. It was a rather nice trailer park, with smooth asphalt roads connecting the lots. Huge oaks and weeping willows offered plenty of shade. Our trailer was a 2 bedroom/2 bath with two A/C window units, thankfully! Living in south Texas made be abhor the heat. Most of all, when we moved into Lazy Acres, I was happy to be away from the funk that clung to my cousins.

            By this time the majority of our family in south Texas were living in the Lazy Acres. Aunt Lema shared a trailer with her youngest daughter, Carrol, and her boyfriend, Gary, along with their two kids, Savannah and Crystal. Marcy lived next door to them, and her long-time friend, Dianne, who was like family, lived in a trailer over with her family. Chris, Lema’s eldest, had just moved back to Texas from Florida with her husband Mike, and kids, Chucky and Angela. They also lived in the trailer park.

            I first met Chris and her family several years before, in Houston, when they lived in the neighborhood with Grandma Johnson. Every time we visited Grandma Johnson, Dad took us over to Chris’ house where I’d hang out with Chucky. He was about seven years older than me, but we got along great and I thought he was really cool. At the Lazy Acres I noticed that he’d grown physically, yet he still had childish ways. His mother’s a hypochondriac and has put her kids through hell, imagining all sorts of illnesses and psychological problems you could have. Before Chucky was 15 he’d already been in two separate mental institutions.

            Regardless, I was stoked to see Chucky at the Lazy Acres. He showed me to his room where we played Mike Tyson’s Punch-out on his Nintendo. I was so enraptured by the game that he’d leave me alone for several hours and come back to find me still wide-eyed and glued to the screen. If I could’ve gotten away with it I’d have stayed there all night, every night, but Chris made me go home before she went to bed.

            Chucky hated that I could smoke pot in front of my parents, yet he wasn’t even allowed to smoke cigarettes in front of his. My dad didn’t mind if he smoked with us, though, so he spent a lot of time at our trailer.

            I hung out with Chucky a lot those first few weeks, but he was mentally imbalanced and started to grate my nerves. He was neurotic and very immature. There was a beautiful girl his age that was friends with Marcy. She had a crush on Chucky, followed him around like a puppy dog. One day we were all at Aunt Lema’s place, watching a movie. She had a big screen TV and VCR and loved watching movies. Chucky and his girlfriend found a room and had sex. He then bragged to everyone how easy she was to bed, like a real jerk. The girl was a virgin and Chucky’s behavior crushed her. I found her outside crying, trying to cut herself with a Coke can. I took the can from her and tried to console her. She was such a pretty girl, and I secretly had a crush on her. I told her Chucky was an asshole, not to pay attention to him. She said I was sweet, but she stayed with Chucky. I stopped hanging out with him so much.

Joe Cool

Once again, there weren’t many kids my age to hang out with at Lazy Acres. I had Jerry and Tommy for about a month after we moved in, then Marcy moved them to the opposite side of town. As I searched the trailer park for things to do one day I ran into a group of teenagers with skateboards. They were practicing tricks and maneuvers, and one dude in particular had an impressive repertoire. He had short brown hair and they called him Joe. At a distance I watched kid after kid attempt to ollie over a rail and wipe out, but Joe cleared it with ease. When I rode skateboards with Frank and Raymond or my cousins it was all about racing, jumping ramps. We had no real skills. These teenagers were good, though, and my interest in skateboarding grew exponentially watching them.

            When all of the teenagers split up only Joe remained. He hopped on his board and headed my way. He slid to a stop by me and struck up a conversation. His name was Joe Poore, he was 15 years old and lived with his grandparents at the Lazy Acres. He said he’d been skating for years. He lit a cigarette and asked me if I skated. I told him I did, but didn’t have a board and didn’t know any tricks. He did an ollie (made the skateboard jump while on it), rolled his board to me and told me to try it. It was awkward at first, I couldn’t get the ‘board off the ground’ and I busted my ass several times, to Joe’s amusement. He was cool, though. He demonstrated for me several times and showed me where to place my feet, how to become one with the skateboard, until I got it down.

            Joe went home to check with his grandparents and I ran off hoping to catch up with him again. Later that afternoon I found him and my cousin Chucky in front of Joe’s trailer. They were smoking cigarettes, listening to heavy metal on a portable radio. At the time I was just getting into heavy metal. My cousin John was a metalhead; his place was decorated with posters of Iron Maiden, Ozzy, Led Zeppelin, and other bands, and he could play a lot of songs on guitar. I loved watching him play, and he showed me how to do a few songs. Joe seemed to know a lot about rock music. He grew animated telling us about the concerts he’d seen in Corpus Christi. As with skateboarding, Joe helped ignite my interest in rock music.

            I don’t remember what it was behind or how it started, but Chucky and I began fighting. He grabbed me by the throat and held me against Joe’s trailer. I couldn’t breathe. I kicked at him and tried to shake free. He just laughed. Joe got in Chucky’s face, pushed him off me, told him to pick on someone his own size. Chucky had the craziest look on his face as he laughed maniacally and walked off. I knew way back then that he wasn’t playing with a full deck.

            In spite of our age difference Joe became my best friend. As I grew older I didn’t hang out with many kids my age; I often ran with an older crowd, and it started with Joe and his friends. I went to high school football games with them, became obsessed riding skateboards in one kid’s backyard on a half-pipe with him and Joe, and smoked pot with them. They thought I was cool because I could roll a joint better than any of them! But Joe also liked playing video games. He had a Nintendo of his own and we spent a lot of time in his room playing.

            I’d never smoked a cigarette until I met Joe. I took hits off of them before, and each time choked and thought they were nasty. With Joe, I smoked until I turned green and got sick, then I smoked some more. His grandpa worked on a boat and had cases of cigarettes stored in their trailer, so we had plenty of smokes. My parents were cool with him smoking pot at my place, but we never got high at Joe’s unless his grandparents were gone. Conversely, I couldn’t smoke a cigarette in front of my dad until I was 12. My mom never cared what I smoked.

I Learned it Watching You

My mom used to drive me to school when we lived at the Lazy Acres. On the ride there we sometimes smoked a joint. Before I got out of the car she would spray me with air freshener and warn me to ‘maintain’, meaning don’t telegraph to my teacher that I was high. I was adept at acting ‘normal’ when I was high around grown-ups who weren’t. I learned to straighten my face, control my laughter, and speak coherently when I needed to. The problem was I couldn’t stay focused very long and spaced out in class. My teachers often had to repeat a question for me. I got behind on my work when I went to school high and had to catch up on it on days when I wasn’t stoned.

            Mom dropped me off at school one morning and I found Ramon in the sandbox. I’d promised to get him high that morning. He was anxious when he saw me. “Did you bring it?”

            “Does Howdy Dudey got wooden balls? Fucking’ A I brought it!”

            His face lit up and we made our way into one of the concrete cylinders in the sandbox. Zippo lighters were in style when I was in the 4th grade and I pulled mine out with the joint I pinched out of my mom’s stash. She had no idea I’d brought weed to school. Ramon and I smoked half of the joint together and I let him keep the rest. The bell rang and we parted ways to different classes.

            By the time I made it to class I was dazed and confused. It was excellent pot. I found my desk and sat there trying to regain my composure. Suddenly I snapped. I had to turn my homework in! It was a rule that we were to turn the previous night’s homework in at the teacher’s desk as soon as we entered class. I hurriedly reached into my backpack and walked to her desk.

            Before I realized what I was doing I dropped my Zippo lighter on my teacher’s desk. I immediately caught my mistake and tried to improvise. “Um, I found that on the playground. I didn’t want some 3rd grader finding it and lighting the school on fire.”

            She looked down at the Zippo lighter and then back up at me. “Thank you… Where’s your homework?”

            “Oh! I forgot! It’s in my backpack.” I retrieved my homework and handed it to her. I told her I was in such a hurry to give her the lighter that I forgot to use the restroom before class and asked her for permission to go, which she granted.

            I was shaking when I got into the hallway. I felt like a fool, giving my teacher my Zippo! I needed to get my act together and I hoped washing my face would help.

Ramon was in the restroom, freaking out. He said some kid saw us smoking and threatened to snitch on us so he was getting rid of the evidence. He had his own lighter and lit the other half of the joint. We smoked it together before washing our faces.

            As soon as we entered the hallway Mr. Ferguson, the principal, was walking our way. He called us to him. Again I was trembling as he asked us if we’d been smoking.

            “No, sir.” We said.

            “You smell like marijuana and your eyes are red. Follow me.”

            He led us to a bench outside his office and instructed us to wait there while he called our parents. I told Ramon to deny everything, that they didn’t have anything on us, and he agreed. I was worried Mr. Ferguson would call the cops, that the Children’s Protective Services would take me away. I was concerned about my parents going to jail. No way would I admit to getting high.

            Ramon’s mom arrived. She spoke with Mr. Ferguson briefly and then called Ramon to join them. I couldn’t hear everything, but Ramon started to cry and I just knew he was caving on me. Finally, Ramon and his mother left the building.

            Mr. Ferguson couldn’t get a hold of my parents. He had to drive me home. I rode in the backseat. He said he was shocked boys our age were doing drugs. He made a few comments about how bad drugs were, but most of the ride he spent in silence.

            My mother opened our front door before Mr. Ferguson could knock. She was the only one home. She was surprised to see us. “Is everything ok?”

            Mr. Ferguson asked if he could come inside to talk and she waved us in. The trailer reeked of a mixture of air-freshener and marijuana. Mom and I sat on the couch, Mr. Ferguson on the recliner. A tray with weed and Zig Zag rolling papers was in plain view underneath our glass coffee table. No doubt Mr. Ferguson noticed it as he explained the morning events to my mother. As he spoke my mother cut angry glances at me. She put on a show for him. “Where’d you get it from, boy? Your ass is grass and I’m gonna be the lawnmower! Wait ‘til your daddy finds out!” It felt like being in a poorly acted B movie.

            Surprisingly, Mr. Ferguson never alerted the authorities. He simply told my mother I was suspended for three days and implored her to be careful about leaving things around the house. My mother yelled at me after he left and threatened to tell my father. I begged her not to because I knew he would put a boot in my ass. She agreed not to tell him, and I promised I would not take weed to school ever again. It would be a couple years at least before she let me get high before school. “Let” is the key word; I snuck around and did a lot of things behind my parents’ backs over the years.

            Every time I reflect on this story I think of the old anti-drug commercial where the father bursts into his son’s room with the marijuana he found. The father demands to know where his son got it from? Where’d he learn to do drugs? The son screams at his father, “I learned it from watching you, dad! I learned it from watching YOU!”