In Memory of My Dad #34

Written by Bob Briggs—1994

Fear is a terrible thing, pure unadulterated fear is a mind numbing, limb freezing, feeling that turns your insides to water.

I wonder what kind of fear Scott Donner  felt in San Antonio, Texas that day in 1993 when he let fear take control, and clambered back down the 10 meter platform from where he was to take his final dive.  It was a moot point dive as he already had first place sewed up.

But Donner didn’t take the dive, he went into his pre-dive routine and performed a handstand prior to taking th plunge.  The dive shouldn’t have taken over ten seconds, but Donner continued to remain there balanced on his hands 20 seconds, 30 seconds, like a statue.

Finally after about forty seconds, his legs wavered twice and Donner lowered his legs until he was standing straight upright on the platform.  He then climbed slowly down to where his friends and family waited and wondered.

Donner said he suffered from post-traumatic-stress, a Vietnam-veteran disorder, but what he was really suffering from was not making it big on the endorsement trail.  Donner said that he felt an immense feeling of relief when he walked off the platform.  He didn’t need this.  Donner had a fear that he would change his mind in the middle of a dive and hurt himself.  He dove beautifully in the 1992 Olympics, he dove well enough to win a Silver Medal in the 10 meter platform.  A 10 meter dive is like diving off the eaves of a two story house, or out the window of a three story apartment.  You also have to cup your hands over your head, pushing a hole in the water with your hands before your head hits the water.

Donner says that he has seen many people get hurt in the platform dive.  You are entering the water at 35 mph and to hit anything but a near perfect dive could be disastrous.  So Donner came home from the Olympics with his Silver medal all ready to take on the corporate world.  He admits he made mistakes when he didn’t hire an agent to make deals for him.  He thought he could do it on his own.  He didn’t realize that an Olympic Champion’s light burns hot and quick.  If you don’t have some one out there in front singing your praises, you’re not going to do any selling on the market today.

So Donner started to eat an atrocious diet, he started to drink and smoke cigarettes, he started to drive fast on empty streets with no thought in mind except not getting arrested, in short he had turned into someone that I would have liked.

Donner wrecked his car on a rainslick Florida highway last spring, if you expect me to tell you that he was crippled in an accident, he wasn’t.  He says that he may be back for the ’96 Olympics if he makes the team, but this time he won’t  be fighting an unknown fear in his mind.  So much for the story.  I don’t know if I believe it or not, I do know some ‘Nam vets that should be kept in a box, but that’s another story.

Speaking of vets, I had a chance to hear Randy Crouch play the other night at a gathering of veterans and friends at the river for the annual Blue Note Festival.

Randy is the heart and soul of the band, the Flying Horse, a 3, 4, or five man combo that belts out rock, country or reggae at warp speed or whatever else that your ears can stand. 

Randy’s main guitar player, Sparky Fisher, passed away this past summer and so whatever guitar player that’s available now can sit in with the band.

Randy is a fiddle player of par excellence, and when he drags that bow across those strings for a rendition of The Star Spangled it is worth traveling more than a few miles to hear.

I arrived at the campground where they were holding the Blue Note Festival at just about sundown and a lady cold jumped me at the gate for a buck’s donation to “cover expenses” of which I’m all for, I just don’t like surprises.  Because most time when I go to the river, I don’t carry money with me, but this night knowing that I’d probably be seeing my brother among others, and not knowing what would transpire, I had a few extra dollars.

So paying my buck stipend I drove on into the party.   I arrived just in time to see my brother playing a splendid rendition of Dan Garber’s or Doc Davis’ “Adair County”— and doing the song some decency.

You have to do some pretty deep research to find out the author of most of these original Green country songs, and the passage of years and the combination of many factors have dulled the senses of many of my friends and so their arguments continue.

Brother Goose did another song or two and then came down from the bandstand to howdy and shake with the many folks gathered there under the trees.

He likes to get his commitments over with as soon as possible so that he can say “yeah, I was at so and so’s party, and yeah I played.”

When in reality all he wants to do is get away from the office and toast a few with his friends.  He figures the best way to accomplish that is to get his musical talents out of the way so that he can hang at the fringe of the crowd and check out all the new swim suit styles.

But back to The Flying Horse Band, there were some nights when the band could walk with the king, or anybody else for that matter.  There were times when the band was the absolute best that you’d ever heard.

When Randy would stand there with fiddle in hand and an electic guitar slung around his neck fiddling with the volume and bass controls with his bare feet, while all the crowd got down with him on one of his patented songs.

Then some nights Randy gets just as rowdy and noisy as the others and always plays as smooth as unblemished silk.

But every now and then he gets it in his head to go out and dance with the big boys, and on those nights Randy Crouch is special and can make music with anybody.  Go on, get one of his tapes that one of his friends have boot-legged, crank  it up and stand back among the mainbeams and you’ll know what is was to hear some real men play some real rock and roll.

In Memory of My Dad #33—Armadillo

No matter how many times I leave Tahlequah, I’m always ready to return to the old hometown—but first, I had a commitment to some friends in another town to take care of before my departure for home. I had already said goodbye to my two daughters, and after a rousing night in Donny Duree’s bar, I said adios to the Golden Spread and headed southward toward where my friends live.

3:00 a.m. is what the digital read out on the clock beside my bed said in bright bold numbers—the drinkers hour.  Drinkers all over America were coming awake at this hour, staring at the shadows as they prepared to do one more dance with the demons.  I was no different as I went into the bathroom, washed quietly, then went into the kitchen to prepare a huge pot of coffee prior to leaving.

The morning breeze was cool on my face on that morning drive south.  The eastern sky was turning a pale salmon pink, when all the coffee that I’d drank teamed with the beer from the night before and told me it was time to stop and check the atmospheric pressure–I lifted my foot from the accelerator and let the pickup coast to a stop beside a wild plum thicket.

I was standing there admiring the sunrise when an uncommonly amount of noise came invisibly through the shinnery.  Whatever it was I felt vulnerable standing there dressed in nothing but a pair of cutoff wranglers with a twosome of ratty flip-flops on my feet.

Squinting into the semi-darkness and trying to walk backward and keep the loose shower shows on my feet and fumbling with my zipper, I sat right down in a patch of sandburrs.  Sandburrrs are God’s bane to the barefoot traveler.  They pierce the skin so easily and once they’re in the flesh they curl into unforgiving hooks that bring grown men to tears when they’re being removed.

I was glad for the darkness as I removed my shorts and tried to get the miniature hooks from my hands, feet and posterior.  I was working diligently on my hands and feet, when something that resembled a basketball tumbled down the embankment and started making its way toward my pickup.

“Hey Bob, that’s an armadillo.”  I said.  I had seen plenty of the little creatures dead alongside the highways, but in my short lifespan this was my first encounter with a live one.  The creature moved like a live steel helmet snuffling and poking its small nose into every nook and cranny until at the last instant my scent must have wafted gently on the morning breeze and the little armored one veered off and unhurriedly made its way down the bar ditch.

I stopped at a roadside park and hour or so later and who should pull up but a member of the Fish and Wildlife Division.  so I thought why not do a little impromptu research on the little critters. 

I found out that the armadillo was named by the conquistadors as they made their way through Mexico and the Southwestern United States.  But most Texans today simply refer to them as diggers because of their penchant for digging for larvae and grubs.  My Dad used to call ’em ‘borers” and swore that they fed on the newly buried.  I never knew he was talking about armadillos though.  I’m certain that  armadillos looked for grubs or what have you in freshly dug graves, but going down 6 feet and through a couple containers for your dinner seems a little far-fetched and the game ranger assured me that it was.  There goes another old wives tale out the window.

The game ranger, while admitting that he was no expert on the subject of ‘dillas, said that it would be fitting if they did feast on the dead because poor whites cooked the ‘dillas with a mess of greens and cornbread where during the Depression they became known as “Hoover Hogs” or “Texas Turkeys’ and graced many holiday tables.  Even today, some poor blacks still  barbecue the soft meat of the ‘dilla and consider it a delicacy.

Ancient Mayans refused to eat the armadillo because they believed that common vulture did not die but metamorphosed itself into an armadillo.  Smart people, the Mayans.

But the young ranger assured me things were going better for our Cenozoic cousins now.  Texas law protects the hardy reptile from the exploitation of commercial hunters and that means it would be harder to find a lampshade or a purse made from the skin of one of the tiny varmints.  The main concern of the armadillo today is to keep from getting its remains pressed into the asphalt by passing cars as they amble myopically down life’s highways.

It was coming onto noon by now and I just passed the outskirts of Quanah, Texas when I thought that I’d stop for a quick bite to eat.  Quanah is named for the great Comanche war chief Quannah Parker, born of mixed parentage.  Parker, a self-styled hellion, made things tough for the Texas Rangers just before the turn of the century.  His name means “fragrant flower” in Comanche and was said to be the cause of many-a-fight with Quanah’s boyhood pals.  But writing about him would take up a whole column, so we’ll let that slide for now. 

The Dairy Queens and the drive-in parking lots were filled with cars and pickups and the few promising looking steakhouse lots were filled also, so I opted for one of those plastic, laminated looking places called the Brewbaus or Der Schnitzel Palace or something like that.  I knew I was in trouble when the menu read “order by number please”.  I ordered number whazzit and received a grey-colored wiener covered with sauerkraut and a mixture of slurry that was supposed to be German potato salad.  The wiener squeaked like I was chewing on rubberbands and the potato salad had the consistency of and tasted like wallpaper paste.

I sat there chewing this untasteable mess and found myself wishing  I had a hunk of that barbecued Hoover Hog and a good mess of turnip greens.

~ Written by Bob Briggs

In Memory of My Dad #32–Arm Wrestling

Sports events that take place in bars include wet t-shirt contests, women’s mud wrestling, chug-a-lug contests, belch offs and arm wrestling. What makes them different from normal sports is their spirit of bawdy, drunken democracy. Anyone can join in.

Arm wrestling has long been a favorite way for men to match strength since big muscles came into vogue at the turn of the century, but until fairly recently, it was sheer anarchy with the guys going against each other anytime, hell-bent on destroying each other or at least trying to break an opponent’s arm.  There is no regard for rules, sportsmanship or the other namby-pamby moral implications of the game.

A man can come into a bar, sit and drink like a gentleman, and the minute he starts getting in his cups, here comes the challenge, “Let’s arm wrestle!”

Now there is a higher standard.  The American Arm Wrestling Association sponsors matches in the swankiest casinos in Las Vegas.  They even have a team of chiropractic and medical doctors on hand for injuries.

While not yet as refined as golf, bowling, or even semi-pro tobacco spitting, the arm wrestling association is trying to find some respect.

Like chess, it demands such concentration that it sucks a contestant dry.  Whereas chess players use brains in putting their opponent in check, arm wrestlers must use muscle to achieve their goal of defeating an opponent and in neither sport do brains or muscle alone make the winners.  The winners are the ones who have mastered the psychological edge that it takes to beat their opponents.  Which in arm wrestling is to force the other guy’s arm down on the table before he forces your own arm down.

To gain an edge, arm wrestlers make themselves as repugnant as possible.  They may grow a Fu-Man-Chu mustache or shave their heads or perhaps grow a full beard.  Or they may adopt a fearsome nickname such as the Hulbert Maniac or Bonecrusher.  They might drool, bark or even go so far as to start speaking in tongues as they approach the table where the match occurs. 

Bill “the animal” Brewski is said to drink motor oil straight from the can and eat fistfuls of live cockroaches to gather his superhuman strength.  Most competitors are manual laborers with huge arms, the kind of man who uses Lava and Borax to get their hands clean after work, the kind of man who will order beer by the pitcher when he’s drinking by himself.

But good technique will beat raw strength any time, aside from the psychological games already mentioned.  Good technique means knowing how to curl an opponent’s wrist after “lock up” (the initial coupling of hands with the first thumb knuckle visible).  This way the opponent is not ready for a surprise slam.  One slim kid that I knew from Hobbs, New Mexico used this tactic.  He would stand stock still after lock up, offering only enough resistance to stay motionless, all the while pumping blood into his arm readying himself for the kill while his opponent grunted and strained and generally exhausted himself.

There are two ways to arm wrestle, standing up and sitting down.  AAA rules specify that when standing, a contestant must keep one foot on the floor at all times (the other may be wrapped around a table leg), and it is a foul to use any other part of the body other than the forearm to try to pin an opponent.  During a seated match kicking under the table is forbidden, and you are required to keep one buttock in contact with the seat at all times.  competitions take place in weight categories that range from 0-135 pounds to 242 pounds and over for men, while the women go in the 0-120 and 140 pounds and over. 

Arm wrestlers are looking at the sport being in the International Olympic games soon.

written by Bob Briggs

In Memory of My Dad #31

“Not even God can hit a one iron” –Lee Trevino

This is true.  Most golfers don’t even carry one of these bloody things in their bag.  The one iron is a confidence crusher, a fear trip not to be believed, an almost certain guarantee of shame, failure, dumbness and humiliation if you ever have to use one of the things in public view.

All golfers hate and fear the one iron.  It has no angle, no pitch nor any loft.  It is straight up and down like a putter, and the chances of a normal person getting a ball aloft with it are about 1000 to 1.

Few PGA players ever touch the one iron, and most amateurs won’t even have one in their bag, lest the pure ugliness of the iron poison the  beauty of their matched set of $500 clubs.

The one iron is so ugly, they will tell you; so evil and wrong by nature, that it’s mere presence in the bag will cause seven irons to fly off course.  It will make a Ben Crenshaw putt like some school boy whose only existence  is to see how far he can drive the ball.

The one iron is usually the cheapest club in the 50 percent off barrel which sits all alone among the seastraw hats and the Titlest visors.  Charlie Manson once said he’d rather hit a whippy hickory shafted Bobby Jones two iron than the best one iron made (I tell you this to show how diversified golfers are).  Or perhaps they’re just bedrock crazies.  Trevino said, “Not even God can hit a one iron”, which proved to be true in Trevino’s case—but so what?  I can flat out hit a one iron.  I can mortally kill a one iron.  The Ping Eye 2 Berylium one iron is my favorite golf club.

One night at Gene Cryer’s driving range in Pampa, Texas it felt so weird the first time I hefted a Ping one iron.  It felt like an extension of my arms that soft summer evening.  I teed the ball up and lashed it about 240 yards down the middle.

I then placed about five or six more out there where you could cover the whole bunch with a J.C. Penny sheet.  A deathly silence fell on the crowd that summer night at the driving range, as I continued to hit balls out at the 250 marker.

“Hot Damn,” I thought.  “This is it.  This is the club that will put my game on an entirely different plane.  This is wonderful.  The people were frozen and stunned, they made me an object of worship, a real hero of golf.

They were like law students watching closely as my old friend Mike Stone won five DWI cases in a row.  He worked best when he was under a bit of pressure and always in the face of huge odds.  Mike couldn’t hit the one iron, but in the courtroom he could walk with the kings.

Written by Bob Briggs

In Memory of My Dad #31

This article was written by my dad on April 8, 1995 entitled Springing Eternal the Hunters Spirit Mingles in the Greenery.  Perhaps some of you hunters can see yourself in the description, and most of your hunter friends too.

The days are lengthening; green colors are showing beneath the yellowish brown cover of fall grasses, buds are showing on the fruit trees and another long winter is about to end.

Early Spring burst out in the hills to the east of Tahlequah and the whites of the dogwoods and the pinks of the redbuds bring out another phenomenon:  The return of the deer and turkey to their accustomed haunts.

The fundamental instincts of these creatures brought about each year simply seem to make the animals disappear from the face of the earth.  Even for the last two months, it’s as if they had been swallowed up by the earth.  And it’s not until about the first of March that they come out again from the deep canyons and heavy brush and become visible to their human neighbors.

Many people will not believe what I am about to say.  I remember a few years ago, when I interviewed the last (at that time) of the Whooping Cranes, there were doubting Thomases who denied that I had ever, in the middle of Dismal Swamp, Texas entertained a family of cranes and held a prolonged conversation with the head of the family while feeding them canned shrimp and anchovies.

There has been a many-antlered deer out on Webster flat for many years now.  Neighbors have seen him flitting across the darkening landscape, and he has been the quarry of many an ardent hunter these past hunting seasons.  As a matter of fact he and I have an understanding.  He lives in a growth of cedars not far from Art Webster’s house near a hillside watering tank.  Often we meet out by a large block of salt and he licks while I talk.

Now if you don’t believe this you had better stop reading now—especially if you are a deer hunter–because my old friend may be discussing you with a frankness which will not do your ego any good.

The afternoon was mild as I sat propped against a sweetgum tree, and old Lucky Buck worked out on the block of salt.  Finally he turned to me and said:  “Mr. Bob, people are sure enough funny, especially hunting people.”  I don’t know why it is, but all sorts of animals call me “Mister Bob”; deer, fox, ‘coons and all sorts of flying creatures. 

“I suppose,” he went on, “that we deer here in Cherokee County have had about a good a chance as any to study the hunting human.  And believe me, they are a strange lot.  Now being that you want the facts, I’ll give them to you.  And you write them down.

One of the oldest types of hunter is the Housekeeping Hunter.

This fellow arrives on his hunting lease in the early morning hours with a truck load of equipment and one or more hunting partners.  He is the boss of his own camp and a great stickler for detail.  While his companions look longingly out over the hills, he is picking the ideal campsite.  This may take three hours.  Then the others in his party are handed shovels and boy scout axes which brings about the job of erecting the tent.  Cots are then set up and the kitchen is installed with all the painstaking care of Admiral Byrd setting up camp in “Little America” in the Arctic.

On about the second day there is a supervised hunt for a couple of hours with no results, and the third day is reserved for breaking camp, reloading and policing up the area.”

So our interview came to an end, and in the interest of brevity I have condensed the other observations of Lucky Buck.

According to Lucky Buck, this man hunts from a tree stand.  The game is supposed to come to him.  Often he has a hole bored into a live oak limb, into which he slips a swivel chair, so that he can feel at ease and face up or downwind at will.  he spends a good deal of time drinking coffee that his toadies fetched for him, while sighting his rifle in on imaginary rhinos or cape buffalo, against the time he is voted in as president of Alaska or the king of Africa.

Works under the old belief that there are two kinds of venison, that with antlers and that without.  This man is of special interest to game wardens.  This mean is an elusive character, found mostly at night equipped with a powerful flashlight, poaching on private property and later found in the county judge’s office.  Often has wife or children along as a decoy.  Cries like a baby when caught.

Often is accompanied by his wife.  Easily recognized by outdoor and hunting plumage, station wagon, and a certain amount of hopping from one hunting camp to another.  Is not considered a serious threat to the deer population, but does make an occasional input on armadillo, field mice and owls.  Only disaster that can happen to this boy is getting shot by his wife.

A boon to conservation (deer conservation that is).  Full of laughter and practical jokes, conversation and ‘who hit John’.  Usually can be found at convenience and package stores around town, thus enlivening the hunting season.  Likes to frame hunting companions by pretending he’s the game warden over the telephone.  Keeps odd hours.   Returns home from hunting trips laden with plenty of meat:  cured hams, smoked bacon, sausage and a tame turkey that he tries to pawn off as a freshly killed wild turkey.

Shows up on frosty mornings with a .270 rifle and plenty of .30-06 ammo.  relaxing in his snuggly sleeping bag, he awaits dawn and D-Day, then suddenly remembers what it was he forgot to bring–his hunting license.

Can be seen wearing the bright hunter orange vest, cap and gloves, searching for an inch of uninhabited land to hunt on.  Not finding this, can usually be found around a companion’s truck checking out the spike deer that his friend has been feeding for six months.  Drinks tons of coffee and talks about how it used to be.  Can be readily identified by the trinkling gadgets that can be heard two miles away.

In Memory of My Dad #30

Some little-known sports facts and a bit of elk lore

written by Bob Briggs

Abner Doubleday was thought to be the inventor of baseball while in Cooperstown, N.Y. so Cooperstown has become baseball’s adopted home.  However, Alexander Cartwright has been proved the actual inventor of the game.  Doubleday never even lived in Cooperstown.

Besides being thin-haired presidents, Gerald Ford and Dwight D. Eisenhower had something else in common:  both played college football.  Ford played at the University of Michigan, Eisenhower at West Point.

The Harlem Globetrotters got their start as a team that was sent on a grueling tour across the Midwest to play local teams in 1926.  Their now famous antics didn’t start until 1929.

Wilt Chamberlain played as a Globetrotter for a year before joining the NBA.  In 1962 the “Stilt” scored 4, 029 points, an amazing average of 50.4 points per game!  He had a 100 point game and a 55 rebound game as well.

The great center fielder Mickey Mantle of Commerce, Okla., began his career as a shortstop.

Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s real name is Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr.

Roger Staubach won the coveted Heisman Trophy during his junior year of college while enrolled in the Naval Academy in 1963.  Staubach didn’t enter the NFL draft until 1969 because he served in the U.S. Navy.

Ted Williams missed nearly five seasons in Major League baseball due to serving his country as a flyer in the USMC during World War II and Korea.

After spending nine seasons as a professional basketball player, George Mikan, the first big man in basketball, became the first commissioner of the former American Basketball Association.

People in the know say that Sandy Koufax may have been the greatest pitcher ever had he not acquired chronic arthritis in his left elbow which forced him into early retirement.  Koufax also was the youngest man ever inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.  He was 36 when he took his place in Cooperstown.

Patrick Ewing was born in Jamaica.


What comes to mind when you hear the word “fertility clinic”?  Probably a bunch of middle-aged ladies being bathed in perfumed waters, while being fed herbal concoctions while their husbands watch old movies and chew on an elk antler.

There has been quite an upsurge lately in the form of exotic animals, and a bunch of Canadians and Americans are in the business of supplying elk to the public, not just as a fertility enhancer, but for a plethora of ailments from boils to memory loss.

Elk raising is well suited to a lot of livestock operations.  The animals have to be worked, treated, bred, wormed, vaccinated, fed and pastured not unlike other cud chewers down through the ages.  Fencing, of course, has to be adapted along with the other working facilities.  As one old garrulous ranch hand told me, “It’s kind of like fencing in kangaroos.”

Elk velvet is the whole horn sawed off the bull elk in the velvet stage.  The market value, according to the old ranch hand, was $45 per pound.  The fresh horn or antler from a mature bull elk weighs about 10 pounds.  The live market for breeding animals is high.  Yearling heifers brought an average of $3,750 late last year, while yearling bulls went for an average of $1,300.  Young elk cows and mature bulls went for $4500 and up.

Other species like llamas, ostriches, emus, pot-bellied pigs, buffalo and catfish have also made inroads in the livestock operations throughout Oklahoma and Texas as additional sources of income.  Like the elk, supporters of these breeds of livestock talk up the practical side of these animals such as meat, milk, feathers, hide and tallow.  And they are quick to point out that eggs and breeding stock are very valuable and therefore, a good investment.

Elk have a value that is above and over elk burgers and market speculation—-antlers.  As the brochure says, “The magical and mystical elkhorn has been prescribed in countries such as Asia, China and Russia for virtually every disease known to man.

In our country the FDA requires proof before miracle cures and products can be advertised as such, so the promoters of elk velvet have a disclaimer printed which says, “we cannot make any medical claims for the product; however, we will let the product speak for itself.”

But then again, jogging, garlic, ginseng, megadoses of sunshine and Vitamin C, Mama’s chicken soup, Sunday School and loose shoes are all accepted as beneficial to health.  So far there has been no concrete proof that they are bad for you.  I’ve been taking my elk antler drops regularly.  Now we’ll have to wait and see if my hair starts to come back and if that slice has been cured.


In Memory of My Dad #29

Whizbang Red was the luckiest fisherman I ever encountered on a golf course in my life. I’ll tell you why.

Whiz was trying to retrieve a lost golf ball that he had sent to a watery grave when he hooked a seven and a half pound bass, and actually landed the thing, much to the chagrin of Rick Archer, our resident pro fisherman at MapCo out in West Texas.

Whiz wasn’t a bad guy, he was just awfully hard to be around, what with all his bitchin’ and crying.  I think that Whiz would gripe if they were going to hang him with a new rope, or at least be opinionated enough about the whole mess that he would give you second thoughts about hanging him.  You’d just want to go home and relax with a tall glass, rather than go through with the hanging.

And the man was an awful cheap golfer.  He’d slice one out-of-bounds and then spend 15 or 20 minutes looking for the ball, cussin and slashing weeds and whatever greenery that was growing along the golf course.  One thing, Whiz found a lot of golf balls no matter if they were beaten, scuffed and worn.

I was playing with Red that beautiful April morning, I had him about three holes down with but one hole to play on the front nine of Huber Golf course over near Borger, Texas.  To say there were a few obstacles on the course would be an understatement.  You may have to dodge a well-servicing crew working on one of the four oilwells on the course, or you could lose your ball to an armadillo family rustling around the sand dunes where they like to burrow. 

Whiz and myself came to the ninth hole, a medium long-par four.  It’s one of the three holes on the course in which water comes into play.  The hole played easy if you could turn the ball over—there was a nice level place down by the water that we called the “sweet spot”.  If you landed there with your tee-ball, you had an easy flip wedge shot to get home.

I hit a good tee-ball, and had maybe a 75 yard shot to the green and Whiz cut his ball out to the right and 140 yards over some big willow trees.  He tightened up visibly on the shot and dumped his tee-shot, “ker-plunk,” right in the greenside pond that fronted the ninth hole.

I put my ball on the green and two putted for a routine par while Whiz went on one of his world famous cussing sprees.  “Blankety-blank #&$!*#(#@#$%$#%%^^!!@$%$”  This was why I hated to play with Whiz, he was an embarrassment to be with.

Whizbang was playing a fairly new orange ball of some kind, one that he had found on the eighth hole, when he had hooked his teeball wildly out-of-bounds.  I didn’t know when he’d pay me the buck that I had coming, so I just said Adios and went home.

Early the next morning I had a game with a long-knocker by the name of Cryer.  Longcryer was a lefty and was armed with a driver that had crippled more people than polio.  We were both on the driving range warming up when the Frito-Lay panel truck that Whiz drove came clamoring up and parked right next to me and Cryer’s pick-ups.  We had all had experience dealing with higher ups and we frequently hid our vehicles next to the honeysuckle vine hedges and the sunflowers over by where the clubhouse was separated from the clapboard building.  This was where old men drank beer and wiled away the hours playing moon for 25 cents a game and 25 cents a hickey.

Whiz immediately started in on the lost ball: “That was no ordinary ball.  It was a new Pro Staff—you can see that ball from anywhere on the course.  Everyone is trying to buy one, you can’t find them just anywhere.”

“So what’s that got to do with that fishing equipment?’ asked Cryer, sensing another pigeon.  I moved closer to add my two cents worth, since I’m not adverse to cutting someone up like a boarding house pie when it comes to a golf match, especially a lame like Whiz.

To say Whiz was not a fisherman, is like saying Mr. Ed is not a Kentucky Derby hopeful.  Whiz said that he broke the “twine” twice while tying on the huge orange rapella lure onto the rod.  Twine hasn’t been used in fishing since the invention of safety pins.

Orange ball, orange lure; a coincidence, who knows?  They were both orange and that was good enough for Whiz.

Whiz stalked over to the ninth hole like a man on a mission with me and Cryer tagging along still hoping that Whiz would give up on trying to snag the ball and come play a little golf for a quarter a hole.

Whiz lined up the flag stick with the aforementioned oilwell, and started to make cast after cast, pulling out great gobs of moss each time.

On about the ninth cast the plug stopped dead in the water.  “Shucks, (that’s about as strong a word that I can think of to use in a family publication), I’m hung up,”  Whiz exclaimed.

Just about then, the drag started to screech and the line started to smoke as the fish headed for deeper water.  Whiz, not knowing how to play a fish, just horsed that bass right out of the water.

Whiz wrestled the fish for awhile there on the ninth green with Cryer and myself not helping matters any by trying to get our hand on the fish.

It was a sure thing that no one at this Great Track that we called home had ever seen a fish like that come out of those waters. 

By the time we got the bass hogtied and loaded, we drove the thing up to the hi-way to Big Tom Little’s feed store where we weighed, measured it and took a photo with a Polaroid for a keepsake.  The fish weighed 7 and one half pounds.

Rick Archer, who had loaned Whiz the rod and reel that he caught the fish with, was so sick of Whiz’s good fortune, that he took a week off from the welding job he held.  Archer fished the water hazard for a week and never got a nibble.

Whiz fishes all the time now.  “I used to not like fishing, but now it’s my favorite sport,” he said.

Me and Longcryer lost a producer when Whiz traded vocations.  He did go back to Huber Golf Club once more.  He waded out and found the missing orange golf ball.  It was about twenty feet from where he’d been fishing.

In Memory of My Dad #28

A greenish color tinged the edge of the low-hanging storm clouds, and thinking back to what my cowboy friends all said, I knew we were in for one kinghell hail storm.
I had just pulled into Clearwater, just over the Texas line, and decided to seek shelter from the storm. It was getting dark, and I almost didn’t see the one business that was open in town. So driving past, I pulled a u-turn and parked underneath the awning of a deserted D-X station. Lightning was beginning to flash now many miles to the west, and secoonds later the thunder rolled and grumbled like a drunken sergeant in his sleep as the storm made its way toward Oklahoma.

It was downright cold for the last week in May, and the light golf shirt that I had on didn’t do much to stop the wind as it swirled and eddied the wheat chaff and dust there on Main Street.

I was on my way to a wedding of one of the Durees’ twin daughters and the only thing that I had in the way of outer wear was a light blue seersucker jacket that serves me well—both weddings and funerals.

No one looked up at my entrance.  The room was overheated as most places where old men hang out are.  Ahead of me was a little short bar with three or four stools.  It was a typical beer bar with racks of potato chips and pretzels on top.  There were also big jars of beer sausage soaking in vinegar and pig’s feet and boiled eggs.

A couple of guys were sitting at the bar, working men from the cotton gin, I could tell from the little fluffs of lint that clung to their clothes.

Around the room were scattered a number of tables—some of them regular cafe tables and some the slate-topped kind that you see in domino halls.  They’re slate topped because the players like to keep score with chalk on the slate.  Hell, in my travels around the oilfields and with the pipeline I’d been in a hundred such places.  I could speak the language.

I sat down at the bar and the old boy down the row from me never paid the slightest attention, just went on sipping his Falstaff.  The bartender got up from a corner table where he had been entertaining a pair of aging snuff queens. 

“What’ll you have?” he asked. 
“Bud Light,” I answered, thinking that a beer bottle makes a fine weapon if needed.

The bartender was a big, beefy type, the kind you see every day swaggering, blustering, usually with a pack of Camels rolled in the sleeve of a T-shirt that must be the uniform of the day for this type.

“What’re they playing?” I asked the bartender.
“Moon,” he answered in a hurry to get back to the girls.  Dismissing the bartender as a lost cause, I drank my beer, halfway watching the game over my shoulder.  Finally I wandered over and sat at a table all by myself, but next to the moon players.

Two old men and a young guy were playing.  The old man that I sat beside was called Amos by the other two, and he wore a flannel shirt that was buttoned up to the collar, a grey sweater with a  windbreaker covering the whole affair.  Underneath it all I was sure that he had on long underwear.  He was old and weathered with a bristle of white covering his cheeks.  He had the cold butt of a cigar jammed in his mouth. 

They took no notice of me when I sat daown.  Finally I asked, “Are sweaters allowed if they keep their mouth shut?”
“Not if you do like you say,” said the old man giving me a gruff look.

“I can handle that.” I replied.

After watching the game for a half hour or so, the conversation turned to cable tool rigs.  It turned out Amos was a retired cable tool driller, and I’d worked around the rigs for most of my adult life.  So Amos and I became fast friends in the mode of the oil field.

Shortly after that, I had commenting rights, which I soon exercised when Amos went set on a five bid.

“If you’d have come little, led your deuce ace, you could have knocked down his calf and that throws him in a bind over his cow.  If he goes small you’ve got him.  If he holds you, you trump back in  and lead your trump double and knock out his cow.  Then all you’ve lost is your one trump and your off rock and you’ve made your five,” I said.

“You’re mighty late with that advice,” said Amos giving me a hard look.

“I thought I’d better wait until the hand was over,” I said.

They laughed.

I was enjoying myself.  Sitting in an overheated bar in  Clearwater, Texas sweating a two-bit moon game.  Life is full of strange propositions, indeed.

After a while the younger man left, saying he had to get home for supper, and they invited me into the game.  We played for two hours.  I won a little but was certain to give it back by buying the beer.  I didn’t do it in an overbearing manner, just casual like, a stranger glad for the company on a cold west Texs night.

I felt good.  I was a little drunk, but very mellow, perhaps I’d even feel better if I could have struck up a conversation with one of the snuff queens, but I doubt it.

So I just hung around digging the party. 

The beefy bartender was half drunk by now also, and the place had filled up considerably over the last two hours.  People were trying to two-step to Hank Jr. and Merle and having quite a time of it.  It was small town Friday night at its best.  The bartender was bellowing out ths manhood to anyone that would listen.

It was about that time that the stranger and the bartender started having a  heated discussion that I couldn’t quite make out.

The stranger was dressed in the style of the ’50s, black vest, shirt and jeans.  He wore black boots that had little silver tips on their pointy toes, and the vest was adorned with silver conchos on the back.

Without a word the stranger took three measured steps down the bar, turned and with a great hawking cough spat up a great gob of phlegm down the bar at a Coors ashtray about ten feet away.

The bartender called out, “That’s one” and cheerfully wiped the bar clean.  The cowboy tried to spit in the ashtray twice more brefore walking over to the bartender and handing him a ten-dollar bill and promptly leaving the saloon.

The bartender yelled out something about winning and teaching the cowboy not to bet with him and promptly bought the snuff queens another beer.

“Yeah, that’s right Harley.  You really taught him a lesson,” said the old man that had been playing moon with Amos and me. “The only trouble was that he bet me $25 that he could spit on your bar three times, and you’d smile while cleaning it up.”

Life is full of strange propositions indeed.

written by Bob Briggs


In Memory of My Dad #27

written by my dad, Bob Briggs 1943-2011

“Of course we’re going to Oklahoma City for Derby Day,” declared Val vehemently.  “Haven’t we always gone for the past several years?  It’s imperative that we go.  It’s our sworn duty!  I’ll call Doc for some cash tonight.  What ‘da ya think?  About 500 bucks sound right for this gig?”

Val was still feeding off his victory earlier that day when he and his long-suffering partner had taken the retired marine flyer and the long-knocking kid out on the ninth hole of the Sequoyah Golf club, and Val was bouncing around like a ping-pong ball.

Of course the twelve pack I brought along for the peace offering was down to  the last two beers and that wasn’t helping matters much either.

But Val is like a clam.  Open his head and put an idea in and watch it grow into a gem of an idea.  All I had done to bring forth this idea was to ask Val if we were going to OKC for the running of the Kentucky  Derby.

Doc is an old friend from our younger days.  But not wanting to bore you with the details of his misspent youth, I’ll just say that Doc listened to his body and slowed his activities (both legal and illegal) way down.  Doc is a song writer par excellence, and his trilogy about the outlaw Ned Christie is worth traveling many miles to hear. 

It has been several years since I have been to the Kentucky Derby.  I believe it was the year that Dust Commander, the 16 to 1 shot, won the run for the roses.  Silent Screen, the horse that I had bet heavily on was leading the race coming into the final turn faded badly and finished the fifth hole.

On Saturday morning of race day, the infield at Louisville will resemble a huge outdoor looney bin.  The whole grass meadow will be covered with people from all walks of life.  The cheap seats.  That slice of life that would invariably draw me to its confines like a moth to an open flame.

Fifty thousand people, most of them stumbling drunk, jammed backside to belly button.  It’s a fantastic scene.  What with people laughing, crying, fainting, copulating, and trampling each other.

People from all walks of life, getting angrier and angrier as they lose more and more money.  By mid afternoon they’ll be swilling Mint Juleps with both hands and vomiting on each other between races.

The regulars at Churchill Downs, serious betters included, spend most of the day in the paddock area.  They can hunker down with a tall glass of Old Fitzgerald, while watching the flashing lights and the many changing odds of the huge tote boards.

But I have seen the whiskey gentry in action.  Buy the ticket, take the ride.  The Age of Aquarius is over, now for seven years of healing and mending while the country gets back in shape.  To get quietly and pleasantly drunk and try not to offend anyone.  To get along, go along. 

I sure need to break even over at Okie City this weekend, because I need the money.

In Memory of My Dad #26

On a languid winter afternoon, hound dogs howl a mournful alarm at a visitors casual intrusion upon the Atkins Antiques barn a few miles south of Archer City, Texas.

The dogs take their afternoon nap under the porch of the fading paint flecked building, and are often called upon to sound the call to arms which includes a lot of barking and then an apologetic wagging tail before returning to their slumber.

Atkins Antiques was a ramshackle place that could sell you an Amarillo city bus that made its last run down Polk street, or an ice cream wagon made from an abandoned golf cart, or a bulldozer or a bent horseshoe.

Bud Atkins, 68, who owns the shop doesn’t mind all the modern intrusions, he is a man of all seasons.  Wearing starched Levi’s and a pearlsnap western shirt, he stands amid all the record albums, racks of old books and magazines, stacks of eight track tapes, old leather footballs, spurs that date back to the eighteenth century, mannequins, old paintings and a plethora of heavy iron tools.

“One time I had an old anchor here, it was probably two, three hundred years old, weighed about 700 pounds, some college boys from South Carolina bought it.  Don’t know how they got it home,” says Atkins.  People call me a junker, but every time I buy something, it becomes valuable.  Funny, ain’t it?”

The place sits on three acres of land, the Texas flatland.  The flatland stretches endlessly to the far horizon and this 90’s version of Sanford and Son hardly seems big enough to hold all the treasures accumulated over 35 years of junking.

Winter Texans browse through the property in search of items that symbolize Texas.  They come from Oklahoma, New York, Nebraska, New Jersey and elsewhere.  “I’ve been coming to this place since the early 80’s,” says one elderly man.  “There’s more mysteries here than the Holy Bible.”

The shop is awash with quirky items, like a small ceramic monkey perching atop a stack of books and holding a human skull and while scratching his head as if to ponder his very existence.  A caged light fixture near the front door with strangely stuffed rodents adorning the inside and outside of the cage and a rat with an extraordinary long tail.

Atkins, wears a black cowboy hat with a bigfoot logo pinned to the side.  He speaks slowly and laughs readily, as if sitting on a good joke.  He has a mental Rolodex of his own jokes, if others fail.

Atkins recalls when he and his brother inherited the house moving business from his father.  The brothers decided to expand the business into buying and selling furniture and antiques from estate sales.  The brothers split up in 1969—they weren’t mad or anything, they just decided they wanted to own their own separate businesses.

Cynthia Speer, an elderly lady from Oklahoma City, and her husband have come to the Antique Barn for the past twenty years.  They never fail to be amazed at what they find in the shoppe.

“One time I found an old campaign button here—about 15 years ago.  It was an old FDR button.  I bought it for about $5, and this friend of mine said it was actually worth several hundred dollars, but I wouldn’t sell it for anything,” she said.  “You can’t find things like that anywhere, it’s amazing.”

Among the items at the Atkins Antique Shop is a February 30, 1936 issue of Collier’s Magazine that sold for forty cents and a first volume edition of the music of Jerome Kern, with his legendary rendition of hits like “On Top of Old Smokey” and a song that the Platters made famous in the late fifties, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.”

Record albums of long ago sport icons of yesterday.  There’s Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” and a collection of recordings from a native of the big bend country, Freddy Fender.

“You never know what you’re going to find here in this crazy place,” says Atkins, fielding a question from another winter Texas.  “We’ll buy anything just so long as it’s old and interesting.”

Atkins pointed to a display case that had an empty bottle with the letters “OJ” embossed on the outside, “that doesn’t have anything at all to do with O.J. Simpson, I just recently found the bottle, I do have his football card and a  book on Simpson though.  By the way have you been watching the trial?”   Just goes to show you, you can’t get away from the trial even in central Texas.

Written by Bob Briggs April 1, 1995